Friday, December 20, 2013

Blondes Have More Fun

Today's post is brought to you by Bobbi Campbell.

Ann Kerkenbush, Brenda Berg, Georgie Rattan, the four blondes (plus me makes four) as we were referred to many times, but mostly by one another, are truly people you want to know if you want to know something about education, or if you just need a little fun in your life. These fine ladies spanned multiple generations and shared many character traits; they mothered, disciplined, educated,  and maneuvered seamlessly solving  one disaster after another.  All this and more in this ever changing educational landscape, and they did it  with flair and style. I have never yearned to be a writer, but I have never felt such desire to gain access to the right words and phrases to describe these ladies, my mentors.

I would be remiss if I did not share just a few moments into the lives of these strong women.  Ann Kerkenbush was a teacher of English Literature, dedicated to the profession, even more dedicated to the students she served. She still visits a former student who, unfortunately is currently residing atTaycheda Correctional Institution.

Brenda Berg was a music teacher, a profoundly good singer with a flair for life and style anyone would envy. She could get the most resistant student believing they could sing, and by gosh when she was done with them, they could.

Georgie Rattan was one of the first women in the African Peace Core. A teacher that taught me how to teach kids first, not content. A teacher who knew that writers are within everyone- and she always knew how to find ways to motivate and enrich   - I love her and so did all of her students.

I am not a lucky person, but I believe I was fortunate when when I had the opportunity to be mentored by these three fabulous ladies.  I am the teacher and coach today because these fine mentors took the time and patience refining my skills and ensuring that I , too might know a portion of what they had procured over the years. A mere thank you is not enough, but know that no matter how much knowledge and talent you possess, no matter how many students you have had an impact on or how much educational prowess you possess, mentoring a young person to repeat the cycle is a true measure of success and one that extends far beyond the four walls of a mere classroom.

So, I challenge the gurus of education - the Fishers, the Wiggins, the Wolfes, whom have you mentored lately?  Whom will you choose to coach?

And by the way, I do believe that blondes do have more fun...just ask Brenda, Ann, or Georgie.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Who inspires/inspired me?

Today's post is brought to you by Penny Antell.

Who inspires/inspired me?

The list goes on and on. While I’m confident there is no way I will be able to name all who have inspired me, this represents an attempt to recognize those who have, over my career, influenced my journey.

It all began with my older sister, Jackie, who used to love to play school when we were children.  She required her students, aka siblings, to call out their names when an answer was known.  I consistently failed in her eyes since I refused, to raise my hand and yell out my own name before answering her probing questions.  She taught me to be fair, to make the rules and stick to them, and to love reading and writing as she shared her passion for these subjects with me.  How strange it is that she has become an accountant while I am the one teaching literacy.

Thanks to James Zeeb, my high school Accounting teacher who slipped a disk in his back many, many years ago while I was earning credit as a teaching assistant in his accounting classroom as a senior.  Having the opportunity to teach the Accounting classes while he was in traction at the hospital created the spark to teach.  Though this would not develop into a full flame until four years later as I initially understood this to mean I should be going on to school for accounting.  How silly.  Numbers have always caused me great grief.

My grandmother, who upon discovering I was in college said, nearly every time I saw her, stick to it Penny, never give up this dream.  After graduation, seeing the proud smile upon her face inspired me to continue along my journey earning a Master’s degree in Reading.  Once again, the pride she felt exuded from her beaming face.  When I graduated with my Ed.S. degree in Administration, while just a proud as could be, she assured me I did not need to continue on this journey any farther.  I could rest now.  My grandmother has since passed on, but I have continued my journey and am currently on hold with my ABD at UALR in the area of Reading.  Thanks goes to my grandmother for her encouragement and belief in me.

Kathy Koch, the professor of my Reading Education courses.  Inspired me to reach each student I met.  See each child as an individual and discover how to reach them so they’ll choose to become the best they can be and will develop a love for learning.

Virgie Hartman, the other second classroom grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary - my first teaching job.  Thanks to you for all your words of wisdom and great patience as I grew in the position of teacher.  You were always there to calm my grandiose ideas and to encourage me to continually appreciate the statements students made, digging deeper to value the thinking behind their comments.

Mike Ford, Professor at UW Oshkosh.  What can I say?  Your love of literacy is contagious.  If not for the learning in your courses, I would not be where I am today.  Thanks for your writings, your research, and your “FUN” personality.  May you continue to support the educational endeavors of many more students throughout your career.

My many, many students.  Thanks to each and every child who has crossed my path.  You have taught me so much with each unique challenge I’ve faced, you’ve taught me how to help you by responding to specific instruction and sometimes to the lack of specificity allowing me to learn how to meet your needs.  Each individual challenge has caused me to dig deeper, search farther and continually learn to meet your needs. If you were not learning, I realized this meant I was not meeting your needs and it was my responsibility to continually search for just the right type of service to provide.  Where would I be without you to continually inspire me to learn, search, research, and apply my learning?

Linda Dorn and Carla Soffos - if it weren’t for the two of you, I would not have become involved in Literacy Coaching.  Your belief in others and continual, constant, driven desire to understand deeply the underpinnings of literacy, people, relationships, and theory have morphed into a movement we lovingly refer to as the Partnership in Comprehensive Literacy or the Comprehensive Literacy Model.  You’ve changed my life and the lives of my students through your great wisdom.

My Pastor, Greg Schmidt, you have challenged me in ways that have caused me to grow as a Christian.  This impacts all areas of my life leading to stronger relationships and far greater ethics.  Thank you for continually teaching me about God’s word.  You’ve inspired me to become a better person.

My family. You’ve continued to be patient and understanding through the many years of coursework I’ve attended and/or taught over the years.  You’ve endured hours of planning and preparing, you’ve participated in many experiments over the years and listened to story after story - hardships and laughs alike.  Each time you listen with attentive ears and eyes, you inspire me to listen to my students as closely and remind me to learn from each of them.

My husband.  Wow, without your support I could not have reached the level of learning nor professionalism I am currently experiencing.  You’ve been there during the hard times, fun times, sad times, and times of great success.  Thank you.

Each year I choose a theme for my Reading Team of teachers. My theme, coincidentally, this year was “Inspire, Be Inspired.”  We each need to go forward to inspire others who cross our paths by shining the light for others to follow or by allowing the light to create a path for them to lead with.  

Monday, December 16, 2013


Today's post is brought to you by Jaimie Howe.

There are so many people that have inspired me over the course of my life and career.  I in no way would even be able to begin to show or express my gratitude to all of them.  So I’m going to go in a bit of a different direction and give thanks to the one “thing” that continues to inspire me through my career: LEARNING.  

Whether it is myself learning or watching someone else learn; either way, it’s inspiring.  Learning keeps me going, moving forward, and wanting to be better.  

As a classroom teacher of kindergarten and first grade, I always said that the reason why I loved to teach these grades was because of the growth the students made from the beginning of the year to the end.  These young kids’ brains are so malleable and to watch a student go from knowing zero letters to reading and writing sentences is amazing!  No matter how much stress came from handling the constant needs and behaviors of 5 and 6 year olds, the ability to watch these kids grow and learn was enough to keep me wanting to be better.

As a student and lifelong learner, I’ve always thrived on knowing anything and everything.  Learning something new and being able to bring it back and use it in a way that helps others is inspiring on its own.  

As a literacy coach, sometimes it’s hard to bring back that new learning and share it with your teachers.  Time gets in the way.  Many times resistance gets in the way.  But nonetheless, when you do find that someone who wants to be coached or grasps on to a piece of your knowledge, that’s inspiring.  

Learning keeps me afloat a midst any negativity, stress, or politics that may be happening within my life and career.  So my gratitude and thanks goes to the ability of all to learn and the ability to witness our children, students, and colleagues learning . . . thank you.

Friday, December 13, 2013

An Ode to my Mentor

Today's post is brought to you by Andrea Reichenberger.

Two short years ago was when we first met
It was at a school--Maplewood—days we’ll never forget!
She was the coach and I was a teacher.  Those were our roles.
Eventually we each moved on--the need to grow found within both of our souls.
She helped me hone my skills and my passion for instruction--especially in reading
As well as set the example (and a very high bar) when it came to leading.
Introducing me to instructional idols such as Jim Knight, Doug Fisher, and Nancy Frey
Knowledge which has taken over my life because every single book they publish—I buy.
In times of passion and temporary insanity she listens as I talk it through
She doesn’t judge, she makes me laugh, and I’d like to believe I’ve also taught her a thing or two.
There are few whom I have met who can match her brilliance.
I appreciate her most when she guides me toward success and to discover my own resilience.
Because of her, opportunities I never imagined have presented themselves everywhere.
I have met many new and fabulous people, for she is a professional matchmaking extraordinaire!
The amount of texts, emails and phone calls exchanged I hope will never lack.

She is not only my mentor, but also my friend—her name is Barb Novak.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Note Of Gratitude

Today's post is brought to you by Carrie.

To My Students:

During the season when gratitude is in the forefront of minds and blessings are being counted around the table in homes, I would like to take the time to express my thankfulness to the people who have had the single most inspiration in my professional life: my students. I can think of no better time and opportunity to share my gratitude with the group of students I have had the pleasure of working with during my last twelve years of teaching. For the reasons below (and so many more), thank you!

Thank you to the students who have taught me patience and tolerance. You are the students who may have caused me the most gray hairs, but forced me to learn to manage a classroom, challenged me to find the most engaging teaching techniques, and shown me that not everyone views the world in the same way. Because of you, I am a better educator.

Thank you to the students who help me keep the “small” things in perspective. You are the students who may have missing work or assignments because you have to worry about finding warm clothes for the winter, taking care of your brothers and sisters, or working a 40 hour job in addition to the hours you spend at school. Because of you, I am cognizant and thankful of the gifts in my own life and realize that so many of you sit in my room with a story I can only imagine.

Thank you to the students who allow me to share in your own joy and successes. You are the students who run in my room to tell me about the first “A” in Math all semester, the acceptance letter to your first choice college, or your lead in the school musical. Because of you, I smile a little wider or walk a little lighter throughout the day.

Finally, thank you to the former students who reach out to me after they have left the hallways of high school and are finding their own way in the world. You are the students who have given me the honor of hearing about your college struggles and successes, invited me to your wedding, stopped to talk to me when you see me at a Badger or Packer game, emailed me about your new job, asked me to write a letter of recommendation, or sent me a Christmas card. Because of you, I know fulfillment that I can’t envision in any other career.

All in all, I could only hope to return half of the wonderful gifts you have blessed me with in my career.  I look forward to many more years.

With my most sincere gratitude,
Ms. Sand

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Feeling Thankful

Today's post is brought to you by Julie Schwartzbauer.

It only makes sense that our next post be related to being thankful.  Of course, there are so many things that I am thankful for; my health, my family and my friends.  When I think of my career, there is one person whom which I am quite thankful for.  This person is not only my boss, but my friend.  

I met her about 5 years ago when I enrolled in the Reading Recovery program.  She was my teacher leader.  I was fortunate enough to have an office right next door to her.  I am not sure if she was feeling as fortunate.  I always had questions for her and her door was always open. 

During my year of training I developed a very high level of respect for Linda.  I was in awe of all of the knowledge she held.  In that one year, Linda taught me more about how to work with struggling readers than all of the years I spent in college.  When she left my previous district, I followed her to Appleton.  I think I would follow her anywhere.  She inspires me to learn more.  I only can hope that someday I will be able to hold even half the amount of knowledge she has.  

Thank you Linda. Kuhaupt.  I am thankful you are my mentor and friend.

Friday, December 6, 2013

1 Cup Coaching + 1 Cup Leadership = Amazing Mentors

Today's post is brought to you by Heather Zimmerman.

1 Cup Coaching + 1 Cup Leadership = Amazing Mentors

There has been two pivotal people that played a role in shaping me into who I am as an educator the past six years.  Julie Mosher has been my assistant principal and my principal.  She has shaped my perspective on how to be a leader. Jenny Thompson, my peer coach, has helped me grow as a literacy teacher and literacy coach.  Their guidance has been the key to helping me grow into the educator I am now.

Here are qualities I admire in these two ladies, and I know others do too.

Qualities in Jenny’s Coaching
  • Coaching knowledge:  Jenny always knew when I needed advice, resources, or someone to listen.  She has a good read on people, which makes efficient use of coaching time.
  • Valuable resources:  She gives practical tools and advice that can be used right away in the classroom or in my literacy coach role.  I think it is so important for coaches to give a manageable amount of tools or advice that can easily be used.  Overwhelming someone with resources or knowledge is never helpful.
  • Do I Really Have to Teach Reading  By: Cris Tovani - A resource Jenny recommended when I entered the world of literacy coaches.  It was a great reminder of a wonderful resource that really looks at solid tier 1 instruction.  
  • Reading beliefs:  Jenny is a strong believer of reaching all children in the classroom.  She finds it critical that all content-areas embrace literacy.  One of many things she finds importance in is that teachers work with readers to set a purpose and show students multiple ways to hold their thinking while they read.  Then teachers should determine what students will do with the knowledge they gathered while reading, whether that is something with writing or discussion.    

Qualities in Julie’s Leadership
  • Wealth of knowledge:  Julie loves data and her knowledge from sifting through data shows.  She also is up-to-date on research and shares what she reads.  Before she makes a decision you can see the wheels turning and she can always back up her decisions with well developed thoughts and/or research.  
  • Transforming Classroom Grading By: Robert Marzano- A resource Julie recommended me and my co-teacher to look at when we were wondering how we benchmark grade some of students with learning disabilities who received substantial assistance.
  • Involvement:  Not only staff, but students and parents noticed Julie’s presence in the school when she was principal.  She was in the hallways, available to listen to staff, and attended many after-school events.  People knew the school and staff mattered to her. 
  • Attitude:  She not only has a positive attitude, but staff appreciate her calm manner she has when dealing with situations.  She is also always fair and open-minded to all student and staff ideas.

Both of these ladies shaped me into the educator I am today.  I am so grateful for their guidance and support.  And I know their mentoring will continue to be a recipe for success as I continue down my career path.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December: Gratitude

All the turkey has been eaten. The last crumbs of pie have been licked from the plates (if your house is anything like mine). The fall leaves, scarecrows, and pumpkins have been replaced by pine trees, snowflakes, egg nog, and twinkly lights.

A midst the bustle of a different holiday season, we are taking some stolen moments protecting time around here to express gratitude - gratitude for the people who have influenced our professional lives.


I would like to thank (and apologize to) Chilton High School's class of 2008. I was their eighth grade ELA teacher. It was my first year of teaching.

I made a lot of mistakes. Let me just say that again. I made a lot of mistakes. I am confident there are kids that I failed (both literally and figuratively). For that, I apologize.

I was learning about classroom management. I was learning about assessment. I was learning to allocate time. I was learning how to do all the other "stuff" that is part of teaching - the stuff that didn't actually involve student learning.

I was doing the best I could, though. I built relationships with kids. I encouraged choice in reading and writing. I built a classroom library. I asked kids to write every day. I read and studied to become better at my job. Plus, my bulletin boards were top notch, and I had a new seating chart at least every quarter.

There was someone by my side through all of that. Pat Sowls, the district reading specialist, helped me learn to reflect on what caused my mistakes. She celebrated my successes and knew just the right times and ways to push me further. She introduced me to the Wisconsin State Reading Association.

My first years of teaching (and the learning of the students I knew in those years) would have been a very different place without Pat.

Monday, December 2, 2013

What Are You Reading? (December Edition)

A narrative (about an imagined experience) by one of my most favorite first graders. (I'm the one with the red hair and the big hips on the left.) One of the first things I see every day when I get to work - a reminder of why I do the work I do (especially on days when that work is really hard).

From our professional piles:

Content-Area Conversations by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Carol Rothenberg
(Andrea) I am trying to educate myself more on how ELL students learn English as I work closely with our ELL/Bilingual Coordinator.  What I am discovering is that these practices, especially when it comes to language, are best for ALL of our students.  

Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller
(Andrea and Barb) New book from THE Book Whisperer.

They Say I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein
(Carrie) They Say I Say is a resource recommended to me by a colleague who excels in promoting high level, academic writing and discussions within her sophomore English classroom. This compact  book provides a set of resources meant to promote argumentative rhetoric within the classroom. Most helpful includes a set of templates focusing on sentence starters, transitional phrases, avoiding logical fallacies, and incorporating persuasive techniques in student writing. A great resource for unpacking the argumentative writing standards.

Motion Leadership in Action: The Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy
Motion Leadership in Action: More Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy
(Jaimie) Michael Fullan is a “guru” in educational leadership.  These two books are so “skinny,” (hence the title), that you just have to read them.  They’re fast, easy, and packed full of insight.  

Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level by Diane Sweeney
(Heather) Our district is having a group of educators in different coaching positions participate in a book group.

Self-Paced Phonics: A Text for Educators by Roger S. Dow and G. Thomas Baer
(Heather) Yes, I am reviewing for the reading test so I can get my masters.

Falling in Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts
Close Reading of Informational Texts by Sunday Cummins
(Barb) Both of these present close reading as something that "real" readers do. Both advocate for an authentic purpose for close reading and annotation and interrogation of a text that results in text-dependent thinking (without text dependent questions).

From our children's and young adult piles:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laina Taylor
(Andrea) Actually this isn’t entirely true. It isn’t in my pile. I am listening to the audio version when I go for walks.

Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes
(Barb) Novel in verse about a self-described middle school "tom boy" who is struggling to understand what it means to like boys, want to wear make-up, and be a basketball star. Recommended for grades 6 - 8, especially for struggling readers.

Etched in Clay by Andrea Cheng
(Barb) Historical fiction novel in verse about Dave, a slave who made pottery in North Carolina shortly before the Civil War. Poems are written from multiple viewpoints including Dave, his owners, his owners' wives, and Dave's family. Highly complex but would make a cool mentor text for writing narratives or for use in a history class.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The CCSS: Making Sense of Argumentation!

Today's post is brought to you by Bobbi Campbell.

Planning for instruction takes time, so I wanted to develop a tool that would support coaches and teachers in planning for instruction – specifically, planning for a shift in teaching and learning from persuasion to argumentation.  

Before I could jump into resources regarding this shift, I wanted to provide the research supporting this shift; hence, the reason for the development of this handy dandy resource in the form of a newsletter/hot-linked document.  This document’s purpose is to provide the research supporting the shift from persuasion to argumentation, as well as to light a fire under students’ butts to get them excited about digging into text, while tracing arguments, analyzing the rhetoric and style of some authors, and eventually towards writing their own fantastic and dynamic arguments.  

Who knows, we may create a mutation of argumentationators (disclaimer:  argumentationators is not really a word, silly.) There are links to possible focus lessons, vocabulary, and graphic organizers.  Knock yourself out and choose the resources that best match your style, kids, and/or teachers. 

(Note: Image below is a screenshot. Click on hyperlinked text above to view the PDF in GoogleDrive.)

My only request is if you use this resource, please post comments and feedback  so I can revise.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

No Argument Here

Today's post is brought to you by Andrea Reichenberger.

There is a lot of sensation surrounding the Common Core State Standards, and it isn't just in our state. While on Facebook, I noticed that The New Republic posted an article written by a University of Iowa English professor entitled "Federal Bureaucrats Declare 'Hunger Games' More Complex Than 'The Grapes of Wrath.'" Its argument is based on the Lexile measure used for text complexity. However, if one reads the CCSS document carefully, it is clearly stated that text complexity is based on three important components - the Lexile being only one of them. I was even more disappointed when I noticed that NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) posted the same article. The standards aren't perfect, but many of the arguments against them are misleading and continue to perpetuate untruths.

What people need to understand is that the CCSS provide a clear list of skills that our students need in order to be successful in school and outside of school—and I say this in regard to the literacy standards as I am more familiar with them.
Why would we argue against our students being able to read at grade level?
Why would we argue against students using evidence from a text to defend their thinking?
Why would we argue against teaching our students critical thinking skills that allow them to analyze, synthesize, and write effective arguments?
Why would we argue against students participating in collaborative discussions and building on the ideas of others in those discussions in a respective manner?
Since the implementation of the Common Core, our instruction has dramatically improved and has become more focused.  The standards are designed with common language and skills at the appropriate grade levels.  In my district, this is imperative as it is a very transient one, so when our students are bounced from one neighboring district to another (which is often the case), they allow for consistency and the opportunity to build upon the skills and help to avoid providing disjointed instruction for those students.
Several well-known action researchers from across the country have used the Common Core to guide their instruction and have evidence to show that their students have made huge gains.  As a coach, I have the pleasure of visiting several classrooms and the opportunity to witness the powerful learning that is a result of these standards.  The learning is exciting and is based on best practices.  Unless you are an expert and well-informed in the area of education, and have a deep understanding of instruction, the standards, and what is best for student learning—there should be no argument against them.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Spotlight Still Shines on the CCSS

Today's post is brought to you by Heather Zimmerman.

The Common Core State Standards are a hot topic.  They were when they were introduced.  Then resources starting flooding the market with ideas and lessons tied to the CCSS.  Now they are are in the  spotlight because of the debate if these standards should be used.

In my district, teachers have spent a lot of time diving into the standards.  I have been apart of teams with the literacy teachers in my district, and we have spent quite a bit of time unpacking the standards to explore and understand them.  These learning goals have a focus in all areas of literacy that encourage teachers to plan for different aspects than just the reading and writing component. 

The standards are a bar to reach for, and teachers should not only reach for the bar, but continue to raise that bar.  

Here are some resources teachers have shared with me that they turn to:
  • Checklist for standards-  Teachers shared they enjoyed this site as they started to use the Common Core State Standards.  Then they could check off the standards as they use them throughout the year to ensure they were giving enough time to each standard.

The discussions that happen with the learning process in understanding the Common Core State standards highlights different interesting topics.  I just had a conversation with a few coaches and a teacher analyzing RI.7 and the progression sixth to eighth grade.  There was a debate at the seventh grade level if the text had to the be exact same as the medium portrayal.  This discussions about analyzing different mediums and how that can be done was intriguing.  

I also recently was reading a section in Notice and Note by Kyleene Beers and Robert E. Probst.  I really enjoyed the discussion about text-based questions.  Beers and Probst point out that the standards are focused on this form of question.  They shared a bit of history regarding this area in education and highlighted the importance of focusing not only on the text, but the reader too.  

The spotlight will continue to shine on these standards for awhile.  I think it is is important to keep in my mind these standards are goals.  With all goals, the process can be messy sometimes.  But learning is always messy.  You keep the goal in mind though and always aim for the bar.  And once you hit the bar, you can raise the bar.

Friday, November 15, 2013

What's Hot with the Common Core?

Since the CCSS have come into the picture, I have seen more “intentional” teaching than ever before.  Teachers know what they are teaching and why they are teaching it. They have an understanding of the vertical alignment as well.  There is more of a push to reach the standards because they know what is expected of their students next.  

To be honest, I was a classroom teacher three years ago, before the CCSS were adopted by so many states. I didn’t even know the standards for my grade level (first grade).  All I knew were the assessments I had to give for report cards.  The curriculum was what we taught - not the standards.

The CCSS now brings a level playing field for students and teachers.  We teach the standards now and the curriculum is our resource. Teachers are understanding the "why” more than ever and not so focused on the “what.”  Expectations and rigor have risen and the most remarkable thing  . . . students are rising to the challenge.  I have observed some of the most incredible lessons in the last year.  The Common Core not only has the students more engaged in their learning but the teachers more engaged in their teaching.
It’s a remarkable thing to witness and be a part of.

We have been working so hard in my district becoming familiar with the Common Core State Standards and implementing them with success over the last three years.  I am listing below the three“hottest” topics in regard to CCSS in my district and resources that we use to tackle them.  

Unpacking the standards and SMART Goals

“I Can” Statements and Learning Progressions

“Close” Reading