Thursday, December 8, 2011

Motivation for Learning

Thanks to Mr. Welch for sharing this great video, which set the stage for working with our elementary-wide "LEAD Team" on positive behavior systems, and prior to attending the state-wide Competency-Based Education conference.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happiness by Dr. Alan Zimmerman

"Happiness doesn't depend on the actual number of blessings we manage to scratch from life, only our attitude towards them."
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Dr. Alan Zimmerman's Personal Commentary:

Standing in front of a 1000 people, about to deliver the keynote at the annual meeting of a professional association, I asked the audience, "How many of you think it is possible to have a good day ... every day ... all day long?" Only a few people raised their hands.

They seemed to lack one of the most important, most empowering insights a person can ever have, and that is...

1. YOU have the power to determine if you're going to have a good day.

After all, YOU are the only one who determines how you are going to feel today or any other day. YOU ... and only YOU ... have that kind of power.

Little 5-year old Mary taught that to Dr. James C. Brown once and for all. As Dr. Brown told his story in Canfield and Hansen's book, "Chicken Soup for the Soul," Mary had recently lost her father, mother and home. Now she was being hospitalized with a brain tumor and had just suffered a stroke that left half of her body paralyzed.

As Dr. Brown was about to perform an emergency MRI on Mary, he and the technologists explained that she would have to lie perfectly still and not talk. But two minutes into the process, they noticed on the video monitor that her mouth was moving. They heard a muted voice over the intercom. They stopped the exam and gently reminded Mary not to talk. She was smiling and promised not to talk.

They reset the MRI machine and stated over. Once again they saw her facial movements and heard her faint voice. Everyone was becoming impatient as they saw their busy schedule backing up for the rest of the day.

They went back into the room and slid Mary out of the machine. She looked up at them with her crooked smile, not the least bit upset. One technologist, however, in a somewhat gruff voice, said, "Mary, you were talking again, and that causes blurry pictures."

Mary's smile remained as she replied, "I wasn't talking. I was singing. You said no talking." Dr. Brown and his team looked at each other, feeling a bit silly.

Someone asked, "What were you singing?"

"Jesus Loves Me" came Mary's tiny voice. "I always sing 'Jesus Love Me' when I'm happy."

Everyone in the room was speechless. Happy? With all she had gone through, how could this little girl be happy? A few of the team members had to leave the room for a moment to regain their composure and wipe away their tears.

As Dr. Brown later said, "Whenever I'm feeling stressed, overwhelmed, dissatisfied or unhappy with some part of my life, I remember Mary, and I am both humbled and inspired." Her example made him realize ... that no matter what is happening in his life ... he has the power to determine whether or not it's going to be a good day.

And so do you. YOU have that same kind of power because...

2. YOUR attitude is always YOUR choice.

You see ... your job, your boss, your company, your spouse, your kids, or your friend didn't give you a bad attitude, and they can't give you a good altitude. It's a choice you made.

Of course my audience of 1000 business people were initially skeptical. They wondered how a person could possibly have a good attitude when the economy was bad, their futures were uncertain, their work schedules were crazy, and their personal lives were out of balance. In fact, I'm sure many of them were thinking, "There's no way I can have a good attitude in the midst of all this chaos. I can't help the way I feel."

But I helped them realize they were living a lie. They may not have known HOW to get and keep a good attitude, but they could indeed have one.

As Judith Knowlton later said, "I discovered I always have choices, and sometimes it's only a choice of attitudes."

And no one made the point more profoundly than Dr. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi death camps in World War II. In his book, "Man's Search For Meaning," he writes, "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked throughout the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

So please, please, PLEASE, don't ever cop out and say someone else or something else made you feel bad, sad, or mad. No! YOUR attitude is YOUR choice. And the good news is ... no matter how good or bad your life or work happen to be, YOU get to choose YOUR attitude about all of that.

All you have to do is remember...

3. YOU always have two different ways of looking at the same situation.

You can look at positively or negatively. It's your choice.

When I was speaking at DigiKey, one of my audience members Todd Doyle gave me the perfect example. He told me that he wanted to teach his children a lesson ... that you don't always get everything you want in life ... and that a part of growing up is learning how to deal with disappointments.

So when he hung the Christmas stockings, Todd put a variety of small gifts in the stocking of each of his children, but he put some lumps of coal in his own stocking. Before he had a chance to teach his lesson, his little 4-year old son patted him on the shoulder and said, "That's okay, Dad. We can use the sock to dust the TV and the charcoal to make a snowman."

Once again, you always have two different ways of looking at the same situation. You can look at it positively or negatively.

That lesson really hit home for Jerry Smith when he was working as a builder in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was the 1980's, and some major forest fires were ripping through the area.

As he was eating his breakfast at a local restaurant, he noticed a teenage boy and girl come in with their parents, all looking as if the end of the world had arrived. The mother began to tell anyone who would listen how a forest ranger roused her family from their campsite in the middle of the night. He told them, "You're in a fire danger zone. Get in your car and leave immediately. There's no time to gather your belongings. Just get in your car and head east toward the highway."

As the mother lamented, "We had planned and saved for this camping trip for years. It is just terrible. Our vacation is ruined."

A short time later another family came into the restaurant: a mom, dad, two boys, and a girl. All of them were smiling, laughing, and in good spirits. They sat near Smith, and the mother began sharing her story. "We were amazed at the way the ranger took control of a difficult and dangerous situation. We scrambled to get dressed and in our hurry, I was barefoot; my daughter was wearing my husband's boots, and the boys were in their socks. What an exciting adventure! This is a great vacation and one we will remember forever."

Interesting, isn't it? The same situation but two families seeing it totally differently.

Your attitude is one of the most powerful or most debilitating factors in your life and your work. By remembering these 3 simple tips, you can be certain that your attitude is working for you instead of against you.


Select three difficult situations in your life this week. And then spend a couple of minutes figuring out how you can look at those situations more positively.

Make every day your payoff day!

Dr. Alan Zimmerman
Tel: 800-621-7881


I encourage you to reprint my "Tuesday Tips" in your own e-mail, online newsletters, or conventionally-printed publications. It's free and legal ... IF PROPER CREDIT is given.

All you have to do is include the following notation along with the reprint of my material:

©2011 Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman, a full-time professional speaker who specializes in attitude, motivation, and leadership programs that pay off. For more information on his programs ... or to receive your own free subscription to the 'Tuesday Tip' ... go to or call 800-621-7881.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Out of the Mouths... of 18 Year-Olds

My 18 year-old son watched the 7 Habits Video with me today. I was a little surprised by his reaction.

"Man, do you know what you are doing for these kids? I wish someone had taught me the 7 Habits. Think of how long it too for me to learn those things? Some adults don't have those things figured out. Do you know that you are teaching them to be the leaders of the future?"

Whoa! Slow down! I jokingly said, "Wow, too bad your mom didn't teach you some of those things. Think of how much easier your life would have been up to this point!"

He laughed and said, "Yeah, but this is straightforward. You don't have to learn everything the hard way."

Then he paused, knowing that the video featured several kindergarten students, he added, "Just think if you got the 1st grade teacher to do this too! That would be so awesome! And then, if they did it every year..." 

I interrupted, "It is for everyone. It's not just kindergarten."

He smiled, "They are going to be set for life!"

Saturday, November 19, 2011

7 Habits Video

Elementary students share about the 7 Habits. This is the first year that we have used the 7 Habits as part of our positive behavior and character development system.

Thank you to Mrs. Strickler for creating this video.

Learner Resources from Tweeting Educators

Educators often "tweet" links to interactive web sites that they like. Here are a few recent links I visited. Enjoy!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kindergarten Students Share 7 Habits

Kindergarten students at Libertyville Elementary are using the 7 Habits every day! 
Here is some of their recent work.

 Kindergarten students sang, "Be Proactive" at the October Recognition Assembly. They recently learned Habit 4: Think Win-Win and related that to the Golden Rule. Congratulations kindergarten students!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

7 Habits of Happy Kids

Several teachers are using Sean Covey's book, 7 Habits of Happy Kids to help elementary students understand the 7 Habits. Students can visit the Student School Yard to play games with Goob Bear, Sammy Squirrel, Jumper Rabbit and all of their friends at 7 Oaks. Parents and teachers can preview the book here.

Just the Way I Am

Teaching the 7 Habits - from A.B. Combs

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mistakes and Failures

What do you think when you hear, "You made a mistake"?
What do you think when you hear, "You failed"?
Do students have the choice, or the right, to fail?

The emphasis in my professional life on Response to Intervention, Standards-Based Reporting and The Leader in Me continually take me back to these important questions. What messages do we send to students, both intentionally and unintentionally in the words that we use and the expectations that we have? I remember attending a conference by Monte Selby several years ago. He had us think back to our elementary school days. He asked us to write down the name of the dumbest kid in our class. Then, he asked us to write down the name of the worst behaved kid in our class. No one seemed to have difficulty with this task. Next, he asked us to think about whether or not we would want to be remembered as the dumbest kid, or the naughtiest kid. He had the educators stand up if they would prefer to be remembered as the naughty student... then the dumb student. How do you think that the results turned out? Only about 5 out of 500 people wanted to be remembered as "the dumb kid."

What does this mean for teaching and learning? If it's better to be naughty than to be dumb, guess what the struggling learners are likely to do... get into trouble. Ruby Payne discusses the importance of "saving face" and Carolyn Tomlinson, William Powell and others help teachers develop safe learning environments that support children in building peer status. We want children to take risks and make mistakes which help them build knowledge, understanding, and empathy. It is unlikely that they will take risks if they see mistakes as failure.

What is failure? The word failure is often applied in a negative way, and has a feeling of permanence. A failure usually implies that there is little chance to change.
  • The American Heritage Dictionary: 
    • Failure: n. 1. An act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success. 2. nonperformance of something due, required, or expected. 3. a subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency. 
    • Fail: v. to fall short of success or achievement in something expected, attempted, desired, or approved. 2. to receive less than the passing grade or mark in an examination, class, or course of study. 3. to be or become deficient or lacking; be insufficient or absent; fall short:

What about mistakes? Mistakes and errors fall into the same category. Often, mistakes are seen as actions that are correctable, and can be learned from. Tracy Thompson who wrote the article below titled Learning From Mistakes writes, "mistakes teach us more than our triumphs."
  • The American Heritage Dictionary: 
    • Mistake: n. 1. An error or fault resulting from defective judgment, deficient knowledge, or carelessness. 2. A misconception or misunderstanding. v. 1. To understand wrongly; misinterpret. 2. To identify incorrectly. 

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about Rick Wormeli's Redos and Retakes and Fair Isn't Always Equal, and Alan Blankenship's (foreword by Micahel Fullan)  Failure is Not an Option. Let's embrace mistakes, so that we can avoid failure.

If you don't make mistakes, you're not working on hard enough problems. 
And that's a big mistake.
-- F. Wikzek

Punishing honest mistakes stifles creativity. 
I want people moving and shaking the earth and they're going to make mistakes.
-- Ross Perot

The difference between greatness and mediocrity is 
often how an individual views a mistake.
-- Nelson Boswell

Learning From Mistakes - article
The Meaning in Mistakes
5 Tips for Overcoming Challenges

Friday, October 21, 2011

Digital Natives - A New Kind of Learner

A digital native is a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technology, and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts.

 Nicole Welding, creator of this video asks, "Does this look familiar?"

I hope not...
Digital Media - New Learners of the 21st Century

If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow. ~John Dewey

Sunday, October 16, 2011

After the Honeymoon

A few weeks ago, I read an article by ASCD called, "Maintaining a Positive Attitude as the Back-to-School Honeymoon Fades." It reminded me of the volunteer work that I used to do with families of National Guard members. During long deployments, it's easy to slowly whittle away at our energy reserves. Covey refers to it as the emotional bank account, but I often think of it as compassion fatigue or caregiver burnout.

The emotional and physical "dip" that teachers experience at this time of year is directly addressed with new educators in their mentoring program. But, what about everyone else? Are you taking time for yourself? You all work so hard, caring for each child as well as each other. I am fortunate to be a part of such a devoted team of professionals, who are the hardest working people that I know.


Author Unknown

making the difference
long, long hours
creating a sense of family
being the keeper of dreams
pleasing a lot
using good judgment
teaching for learning
making reading fun
being the wind beneath my wings
that sensitive touch
teaching class
never giving up on anybody
believing in miracles
respecting each other
taking responsibility for all students
keeping a tight rein on discipline
striving for excellence, not perfection
being brave
smiling a lot
never depriving our children of hope
being tough minded but tender hearted
showing enthusiasm even when you don't feel like it
keeping your promises
giving your best
your wisdom and courage
being punctual and insisting on it in others
providing creative solutions
avoiding the negative and seeking out the good
being there when students need you
doing more than is expected
never giving up on what you really want
remaining open, flexible, and curious
being a friend
keeping several irons in the fire
being a child's hero
going the distance
having a good sense of humor
being a dream maker
giving your heart

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Front Loading and Bug Gut Remover

I have been accused, a time or two, of thinking in analogies. Today, it was bug gut remover.

I could barely see through the windshield. The inside was dirty. The outside was dirty, and littered with those oblong splats. I decided that I would "pre-scrub" some of the spots while the car filled, hoping that I could blast off the rest at the car wash. Before I went to the car wash, I stopped at the store.

Hmmm... bug gut remover. I wonder if it really works.

I made my purchase, walked to the car, and read the directions again (I read them in the store too.) I decided to spray the front of the car before driving to the car wash. (Seasoned bug gut removers: Don't worry, I didn't spray the windshield until I arrived at the car wash.) Falling into the commonly false logic that if doing something once would be good, then twice would be great, I realized that the front of the car was still moist and the spray was still working. No need for an additional spray.

The remover said to apply 3-5 minutes before cleaning. I had to wait for a bay to open, so it was closer to 20 minutes. When it was my turn, I grabbed the scrubbing brush and started. I must have expected that this miracle bug gut remover was a hoax, because I was genuinely surprised at the ease with which the little carcasses were erased. I missed a few, but the power washer was no match for the remaining splats.

Wow! That saved a lot of time and effort. There was no way that I spent the same amount of time applying the spray as I normally would have applied in scrubbing. Also, the actual car wash was faster than normal.

And then it hit me... bug gut remover is the same as front loading.

Front loading concepts for students:
  • can be done in short, low-effort bursts
  • can be done just before teaching a concept, or a while before teaching a concept
  • supports students so that the actual learning episode is more targeted and efficient
Front loading, and bug gut remover, is a win-win!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Standards-Based Report Card Basics

In the next four weeks, parents and community members can expect information and tutorials regarding the new standards-based report (SBR) cards. I met with the Parent-Teacher groups for Libertyville and Washington elementary schools this week to get input about how to share this information with families prior to Parent-Teacher Conferences in early November. I decided that my blog post this week would highlight some SBR basics.

To help you understand the SBRs, you will receive 3 key documents: A parent's guide to performance levels, a SBR menu, and the actual report card. Let's look at how each of these documents assist in communicating what a child knows and can do.

The Performance Level Guide: This document will be mailed to each household next week. Key components will include a list of all of the content area "subjects" that will be on each report card. For example, the subject of mathematics will have subcategories for number and operations, geometry and measurement, algebra, and data analysis and probability. For each of these four categories, students will receive a 1-5 performance level. A performance level of 3 means that the student is performing at grade-level mastery. The biggest caution for parents is that the performance levels do not translate into the traditional letter grades. A "5" does not equal an "A," for example.

The SBR Grade-Level Menu: This is a large menu of each content standard and it's supporting grade-level benchmarks. So, going back to the math example, under each of the four categories, are several benchmarks which will be assessed at various points during the school year. Teachers have "sequenced" the benchmarks to designate which ones will be assessed and reported on each quarter. One thing that the parent groups emphasized was the importance of understanding how the performance level may change from quarter to quarter, because different benchmarks are reflected within the different subject categories. A child may receive a performance level of a "4" in geometry on the first quarter report card, but may get a "3" on the second quarter report card when different benchmarks are being assessed.

The Standards-Based Report Card: This will be a summary of all of the subject categories (listed on the Performance Level Guide) with a 1-5 performance level. The benchmarks are not listed on the actual report card.

It is my hope to make the menus and report cards available to families prior to conferences. This will allow parents to review the report cards prior to conversations with teachers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Redos and Retakes

Elementary teachers in our district are leading the way in the development and implementation of standards-based reporting. Recent conversations center around grading practices. It's a paradigm shift for many educators to take the management of student behavior out of the grading system. We watched a Rick Wormeli clip about retakes and do overs. Every time that I engage in this conversation, it reminds me of a defining moment in my teaching career. I wrote the following article a few years ago to remember, to teach, and to inspire others to be stronger than I was at the time.
December 2009
The lesson that I learned with Aaron often enters my mind. Aaron was a small 8th grade boy who was in my math class when I was a first year teacher. The year started well for Aaron, but he entered a slump mid-year. He appeared tired, withdrawn, and unhappy. He had circles under his eyes and hardly ever smiled. His work was never done. I didn’t really know what  to do with him. The teachers who were on my team prided themselves in hard and fast rules about work completion and seemed happy to give an F- to any student who had less than 40%. That’s where Aaron was heading.
After several months of prodding him, I finally met with his mother. She explained that she was really worried about her son, and that she and her husband had recently separated and were divorcing. We made a plan to help Aaron get caught up, and he finally started working again.  He stayed late, came in early, and worked and worked, but it wasn’t enough. He failed. He just didn’t have the points. Fifty percent was taken off the top for any late work. When he asked me why I gave him an F, I regurgitated the response that I had heard my colleagues state so many times, “I don’t give grades; students earn them.” At the end of the year I was shocked at what I read in my yearbook. Students passed it around during each class period to sign it. Aaron had written, “If I earned a grade, it wasn’t an F. - Aaron”
Kari was my student during the second year I taught. She also struggled some with math. However, she never fell behind in her work. Kari and I always got along well. She would stay after class sometimes and ask for my advice, or just talked and I listened.
I ran into Kari a few years later at the fair. It was dark outside. She ran up to me, “Mrs. Schloss!” There was a very tall slender young man with her. I didn’t recognize him, but I did notice that he wasn’t smiling.
“Aaron! Do you remember Mrs. Schloss?” I was still trying to place him.
“Yes… I do,” he said flatly. That was when it hit me, “If I earned a grade, it wasn’t an F.”
My heart sank. I had done an injustice to this child. I had an opportunity to reach out to him in a way that could positively affect him for his entire life, and I didn’t. I just drove home the lesson that life is cold, unfair, and unkind. And, if you get behind, you may as well just forget it because you’ll never catch up. I really don’t remember any of the conversation that evening after I realized that the tall young man was Aaron.
To me, there are always two choices, justice and grace. Justice is when we get what we deserve. It’s when the officer hands us the ticket for speeding. Grace is when we get what we don’t deserve. It’s when the officer tells us to “slow it down.” Aaron needed grace. 
During the past week, there have been several students who have entered my door and shared hardships that they are dealing with at home. Parents separated, adult siblings who are losing jobs, Christmas for six children when finances are tight. Each time a child shares with me, each time a child is sent to the office, each time… justice or grace? And I think about Aaron… I hope that I have the wisdom to know which is appropriate because they both have their place and they both teach children important life lessons.
Our students need us.  We have a tremendous opportunity to write on the fabric of who they are and who they will become. It is an awesome responsibility.
Dear Aaron, I’m sorry. Mrs. Schloss

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Leader in ... Them

One of our School Board Members approached me last winter with information about a school district in Iowa who was implementing Stephen Covey's The Leader In Me.  Several weeks later, I started visiting with our school counselor, Cindi Burggraaf, with initial ideas. Mrs. Burggraaf's smile grew as I talked. She shared that she had just purchased the same book. Throughout the following weeks, we started seeing the potential that these concepts could have for our students.

A small group of teachers, Mrs. Burgraff, and I visited Muscatine schools in May to see the model in practice. Teachers' excitement grew when we visited several elementary buildings and saw “The 7 Habits" being implemented at the elementary level. At each building we experienced a student–centered, often student-led, assembly. We visited classrooms,  toured the buildings, engaged with students as they explained their work, and asked questions to a student–staff panel about implementing The Leader In Me at their schools.

Several teachers at Libertyville and Washington elementary schools read the book and participated in conversations throughout the summer. We looked at how The Leader In Me meshes with concepts from Positive Behavior Supports and Interventions (PBIS). Their excitement and creative thought about "The 7 Habits" carried us through the summer and into the fall.

My initial hopes for this year were to build capacity within the staff regarding "The 7 Habits," to look at connections with PBIS, and to tap into immense creative power within our staff to design a program that is just right for our students. As we complete the first month of school, I can't help but smile in admiration of the zeal and creative power of our teachers. As I walk in the hallways at Libertyville and Washington I see, hear, and feel the 7 Habits permeating the environment.

Two of the initial routines we implemented are the daily “The Leader Pledge,” and “Leader Tickets.” Each morning two students lead the building in saying The Pledge of Allegiance, The Leader Pledge, and by reading the lunch menu. The Leader Pledge is:

I visited a first grade classroom during the morning announcements last week. As the students recited The Leader Pledge, I heard the substitute teacher quietly say, “Oh wow. How neat.” I smiled to myself and thought, “Welcome to our building full of little leaders.”

We morphed our Friday Good Kid Tickets/STAR Tickets into our new Leader Tickets. As staff members see students demonstrating one of the 7 Habits, they give the child a Leader Ticket. The child then brings the ticket to the office and places it in the bucket for the drawing which is held each Friday. The building secretaries, anyone in the office, and any adult who sees the child proudly walking down the hallway with their ticket in hand, takes time to congratulate the child and build them up for being a leader. The following videos were created from last week's drawings.

Libertyville 2011
Washington 2011

Welcome to our journey! We know we are at the beginning, but we have started the race strong.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I love the things kids say and the way that they think. Here are a few of my favorite ones.
Child: "I love living in the US. My dad is a fire hydrant."
Teacher: "Your dad is a fire fighter?"
Child: "Yes, a fire hydrant."
Teacher: "Fire.... fighter."
Child: "Fire.... fydrant."
Child: "You were my principal last year."
Me: "I'm your principal this year, too."
Child: "Oh, are you still the teachers' principal this year too?"
A kindergarten student was walking to the bus making large straight-armed alligator chomp motions. She looked at me sweetly and said, "See ya' later crocodile." :) Yep... in a while alligator!
I was walking past the girls' restroom and heard a small voice say, "How does this work..." Then SPLOOOSSHHHH... The same voice said "Oh!"
New 1st grade term for the principal's office - the Schloss room.
Two brothers at Open House - Kindergarten and 2nd grade.
Big brother tells the younger, "It's against the rules to run in the hallway."
Little brother, "Oh, ok. Can we run in the classrooms?"
Big brother, "No, unless the teacher isn't looking."'
Incoming Kindergarten student asked me if my Washington office was where I live. When I told her that I lived in a house with my family, she looked skeptical. Later, she looked at a picture of my husband and asked me who he was. "I said, he is my husband, Mr. Schloss." She said, "Oh,... so he's your dad?"
At the bus exchange, a 1st grader walked up with a May-day basket full of candy. He said, "If I come to your house to leave this, and you catch me, you have to kiss me." I said, "How about a hug right now, and we'll call it even?"
The new and improved grocery store opened and business was booming! A kindergarten student shared that there was going to be a zoo in the new grocery story. Teacher: "A Zoo?" Student: "Yes, my parents said it was a zoo in there!"
After listening to kindergarten students read a story about the "pug Bud dug a pit and hid a bun," I said, "I wouldn't want to eat that bun now!" The student said, "No, it would be a sandburger!"
Teacher to Student: "This is Mr. Schloss. Mr. Schloss and Mrs. Schloss are married."
Student to Teacher: "By the muffin man."
 Kindergarten - "Mrs. Sha-loss, I like your hair. It looks like my grandma."
1st Grade - "I don't remember what I drew, but it must have been good because I won!" (He won the "drawing" to choose a book from the book fair.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering Today... September 11th.

I can hardly believe that today is the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States. Like many of you, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing that morning. I was teaching 8th grade math at Evans Middle School in Ottumwa, Iowa. I spent most mornings fluttering around my classroom preparing for the day. I shared an accordian-style room divider with our team science teacher, Steve Zimmerman. Steve's morning routine included watching CNN or other morning news, while he prepared for his day. We usually left the curtain open several inches on one side, and would move back and forth between rooms to collaborate.

This morning, Steve stepped into my room. "Kelly, turn on your TV."

I was watching the replay of the first plane as students started entering the room. This particular class was an Honors class and a pretty close group of kids. The typical morning included a lot of joking around and conferring with each other about homework. While I watched the television screen, trying to make sense of what had just happened, they quickly started gathering around me. We were all standing below the TV, mounted near the ceiling, trying to make sense of what was happening.

And then... they showed the second plane. In my mind I thought, "How could two planes accidentally fly into buildings?" My innate sense of human goodness created a fog that my brain had to fight through to truly understand what was happening. Then Steve was at the back curtain. He spoke quietly, "Kelly, did you see that?" I walked toward him. "I think we're under attack," he said.

"Under attack? How could the US be under attack?" I thought. And then the teacher in me turned on. "Ok students, take your seats." We talked briefly as a class about what we saw on television. We decided as a group that we would leave the TV on, but turn the volume down and start checking homework. We did our best to carry on our routine, pausing from time to time to see what newscaster was on and watch repeats. We were almost done discussing the homework when the third plane hit the pentagon.

It was such blur from that point. My class was now in full distress. Within minutes it was announced that all planes had been grounded.

Kris was sitting in the front-center seat. The color had completely drained from his face. "Kris, are you ok?"

"My dad is flying home today from a business meeting in Washington DC. His flight was supposed to leave this morning." Secretly, I wanted to vomit.

"I bet he made it out just fine. Did he have a connecting flight?"

"Yeah, in Chicago."

"I bet he gets to Chicago, and can rent a car to drive the rest of the way home."

Kris and his sister decided to go home and wait for news. He returned later that day. His dad decided not to attend his last meeting so that he could take an early fight home. He made it out of DC before the attacks, arrived safely in Chicago, and had rented a car to drive home.

There was a lot of controversy about whether or not schools should have watched the events unroll that day. My own children were in 1st and 2nd grade. They were aware that something had happened, but were shielded from the details at their school. My students were teenagers, 14-year-olds. We tried to have some "regular business" that day, but everyone was preoccupied with the thought that the US had been attacked. We had students who were physically sick by the events, and had to go home. As teachers, we kept double-checking with each other and our administrators... "How much are you letting them watch? What kinds of conversations are you having?"

As I reflect on the last ten years, I can't even count how many times I have thought of the students in my 1st period class from September 11th. The experience that we shared will forever connect me to them. It's a grounding experience in my teaching career. Whenever I think back to that day and those kids, it reminds me that the most important thing we have to offer as teachers is a human connection. Learning can't happen without it, for the kids... or the adults.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Constitution Day

Did you know that September 17th is Constitution Day? On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine men signed our Constitution and changed the course of American history. This year, Fairfield Elementary students will celebrate Constitution Day on Friday, September 16th.

The National Constitution Center ( provides interactive web tours, podcasts, and activities to help us understand the Constitution. The Center writes, "Located on Independence Mall, the National Constitution Center brings the U.S. Constitution to life for the whole family through multimedia exhibitions, live performances, timely public programs and dynamic educational resources. As America's first and only nonpartisan, nonprofit institution devoted to the Constitution, the Center illuminates constitutional ideals and inspires acts of citizenship, so that "We the People" may better secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

Constitution and Citizenship Day was added to law on May 24, 2005 by the Office of Innovation and Improvement in the Department of Education. Their summary states, "The Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement announces that, pursuant to legislation passed by Congress, educational institutions receiving Federal funding are required to hold an educational program pertaining to the United States Constitution on September 17 of each year." If you are interested in receiving a pocket-sized copy of the constitution, or an app for your iPhone or iPod, go to

“Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.”
— Harry Emerson Fosdick

Thoughts About Preschool

I have extended a lot about my understanding of preschool this week. Through the years, I have taken a deep interest in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. My work with writing curriculum-based measures taught me a lot about the bias that testing items may have. Bias in how an item is written can impact students' ability to demonstrate their knowledge about the actual concept that we want to measure. For example, if a math problem uses a a set of culturally specific terms, some students may not be able to demonstrate the math because they get lost in the context.

In preschool (and lower elementary) assessment, teasing out the metacognition from the behaviors we are assessing can be tricky. Asking students to, "Tell me about strangers," means students have to have two sets of skills to answer the question. First, they need to actually understand what a stranger is, and second,  they need the ability to articulate their thoughts about the concept of strangers.

As a preschool team, we are looking at the portion of the Creative Curriculum indicators which we have selected as end of the year 4-year-old behaviors. We are writing assessment tasks to use with all children in the 4-year-old class in the fall, and then again in the spring. It is a tricky thing. As with any assessment, we will probably use questions that provide unintended results. Sometimes though, unintended results can tell us a lot about what students know about a concept. For example, last spring I asked students, "What is a leader?" The younger students all talked about leading a line, leading a race, winning. It provided a lot of insight to me about students' development of the concept of a "leader." I'm sure that as we work on common assessments for our preschoolers, we will uncover insights about their thinking, as well as our ability to provide opportunities for students to demonstrate their abilities in the four domains.

This week our preschool team worked with the indicators in the four preschool domains - physical, social-emotional, cognitive, and language - some indicators are easy to design assessment items for, and others behaviors are difficult to stage to observe. The most important thing is, we still need to try to assess all if the indicators in some way. We made a lot of great progress this week!

Here are a few quick links related to this post:
Assessments for Young Children
Developmental Screenings with Emphasis on Social Emotional Development
Early Language and Literacy As Indicators of Future Academic Success

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Congratulations to ITEC Presenters

Three proposals from Libertyville and Washington Elementary Schools in the Fairfield Community School District were selected to present at this year's ITEC (Iowa Technology and Education Connection) Conference in October.

Presenters include:
  • Shelley Carter & Brianna Thornton, 2nd grade teachers
  • Brandi Strickler, Kindergarten teacher, with John Grunwald, Music Teacher
  • Kelly Schloss, Principal
Stay tuned for updates about their presentations.

Friday, August 26, 2011

We're Off to a Great Start

It was an energizing week for me! Throughout the short week with students, I was reminded of several things.

1) Remember and treasure their innocence. It's easiest to see in the kindergarten students. They are learning so many new routines, and trying so hard. The rudimentary drawing of a fork and spoon that I had drawn on the silverware buckets at lunch had worn off since I drew them on last year. I noticed that our new cook had written "Forks" and "Spoons" on the bucket. She smiled when I asked to borrow her marker to draw the symbols on again... "Some of 'em can't read yet," I said. She nodded.

One afternoon, I walked past the girls' bathroom. I heard a small voice say, "How does this work..." Then SPLOOOSSHHHH... The same voice said "Oh!" I smiled to myself, thinking of all of the little things we "just know."

As a staff, we watched Van Harden's reading of the Dan Valentine poem, "I Trust You'll Treat Her Well," which I enjoy listening to each fall before school starts. I reminds me to treasure the innocence.

2) Students remember how we treat them. When I asked the students, "What is my job? What is the principal's job?" Most of them started with the regular, "takes care of naughty kids." Several students, ones who have actually been to the office, said, "She helps you solve problems."

This morning I was visiting a 2nd grade classroom where students were working on math. One little boy motioned me over and whispered, "I need help on this one. It's big." It was a word problem. 

Last year, when he was a first grader, I noticed that he was supposed to be working on math and had a huge pile of bear counters in front of him. I saw that he was pushing them around and acting busy. I kneeled down and quietly asked him to read the first problem, "7-3=  ". He said, "Seven, three." I explained the symbols to him, and we reread the problem together. Then I modeled that 7 meant that we start with 7 bears. I counted out seven, and pushed the rest aside. Then, we took three away. We counted the leftovers. After another problem, I was on my way to the next classroom. That afternoon I wandered into music class. He wiggled and wiggled. Finally, there was a break as students were putting materials away. He turned around and said, "Mrs. Schloss! I finished ALL of my math!"

Back to this morning. We read the problem together. Mother baked 6 chocolate chip cookies. She gave two cookies to Kevin. How many did she have left? I whispered, "Do you remember last year when we worked with the bears?" He nodded. I said, "If we counted out bears for the cookies, how many would you count out?" He said, "6." "So, how many does Kevin get?" "2." "Great, can you see them in your mind? Moving two away? How many are left?" "4!" "Right!" 

3) I am part of an awesome team.  Repeatedly this week, adults came together to get things done. There were duties, and planning. New students, open house, and classrooms to get ready. Students who weren't sure what buses to get on. It was busy, busy, busy... Nonetheless, every time that I walked into a classroom, a meeting, or down the hallway, my teammates were smiling and teaching students, connecting with families, and working to provide the best education for each student. Many people had their flexibility tested this week, and I am very thankful for their positive team approach.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Getting Ready, With Passion

from Edutopia 

Edutopia shares words of wisdom to re-ignite your passion for education.

Outstanding in Your Field: What It Takes to
Be a Great Teacher

Ben Johnson ponders what it means to be excellent in education.

Why Do You Teach? What Sustains Us in
Our Work

Elena Aguilar reflects on what keeps educators in the classroom.

Just Get Out There!
Andrew Marcinek reminds us to put aside excuses and take a risk or two.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Summer Reading Lists – A Way To Stay Cool On Hot Days

It's finally getting hot outside. If the kids are indoors cooling off, here are some books and activities to keep them reading. This website,, provides grade level reading lists for preschoolers through third grade. They also suggest several fun activities such as creating a kids' book club, having children illustrate a famous book, and pretending to be characters in the story they're reading. There are also tips for parents to help “sneak and asked her reading.”

Story image 2_0

Research shows that students who do not engage with books during the summer often halve “summer learning loss.”  This tends to be more true for students who do not have access to books, or, simply take a break from school during the summer. Our Fairfield Public Library is a wonderful resource for summer reading materials and activities. Parents, family members, and family friends can encourage students to read in everyday situations. Young students often use context clues, the beginning letter of words, in the shape of words to guess what word is. For example, children recognize signs, advertisements, and labels of common household items, and often infer what word is. This is a great strategy!

It is also important for children to interact with other types of print such as magazines and books. In primary grades, teachers assess “concepts of print.” Here are some examples and questions you can ask your child regarding concepts of print.

  • Does the child recognized the front of the book?
         Say: Show me the front of the book.
  • Does the child  know that the print, not the picture, is what is to be read?
         Say: I will read this book to you. Show me where to read.
  • Does the child know that print is from left to right?
         Say: Which way do I go?
  • Does the child know that at the end of the line they should return to the next line?
         Say: Where do I go after that?
  • Does the child have one-to-one  matched with voice to print?
         Say: Point to the words as I read.
  • Does the child understand the concept of first and last?
         Say: Show me the first part of the story. Show me the last part of the story.
  • Does the child know that the left page is read before the right page?
         Say: Where do I start reading?. (After opening the book to a page with words on the left and right pages.)
  • Does the child know the meaning of a question mark?
         Say: What is this for? (Pointing to a question mark.)
  • Does the child know the meaning of a period?
         Say: What is this for? (Pointing to a period.)
Feel free to stop by the school Facebook page and share what you're reading! Maybe you'll find others with similar interests who are looking for a good book. Have a great summer! Mrs. Schloss

Related Sites

Story image 1_0

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lifeguard Visit Thrills Campers at Camp Courageous

Washington Elementary student, RJ Hawkins, loves helicopters. His teacher, Jen Christensen, and flight paramedic Ben Schloss came up with the idea to see if Lifeguard Air Ambulance from St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids could fly in and land while the students were attending Camp Courageous.

Camper RJ got to sit in the Pilot’s seat with his teacher Jen Christensen with the help of Pilot Skip Barthle.

All the students from Fairfield got to see the helicopter up close with the help of its crew.

There was time for a group photo before the crew took off. From left to Right: Washington Teacher Jennifer Christensen, Flight Paramedic Marni Wacha, Flight Nurse Vicki Petersen, Student RJ Hawkins, Pilot Skip Barthle and Craig Willoughby.

Thank you to Jeanne from Camp Courageous, Debbie from Lifeguard, Mrs. Christensen and Mr. Schloss for making this dream come true!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Congratulations Teachers, We're Almost at 100%

Out of the 30 teachers serving Libertyville and Washington Elementary schools, only 6 do not have blogs. This means that 80% of teachers have blogs to share information with families, communities, and their students. What an awesome job you have all done! Just remember, "Don't be afraid of bronze!"

"They say that bronze will revolutionize they way we hunter gather,"

From Airhead to Genius

I have always wanted the same things for my children that other parents want - for them to grow up to be good adults - kind, caring, helpful, smart, witty, responsible and adaptable. As our children made normal "kid" mistakes, we used the lens of "raising good adults" to make decisions about how to address their behavior.

It can be especially tough for teenage girls. I hope that the video below can help inspire teenage girls to give up the facade of being "airheads" and put the on the armor of being "genius"!

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA scienceNOW.
Yoky Matsuoka, A former tennis prodigy aims to create advanced prosthetic limbs controlled by human thought.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Only a Few Days Left for ITEC Proposals

The deadline to submit a proposal to present at ITEC has been extended to April 30th.  ITEC stands for Iowa Technology and Education Connection.  The ITEC Board and other volunteers host a yearly state conference that includes a schedule packed full of sessions delivered by classroom teachers, administrators, technology directors and other educators. The link for the submission by educators is:

(Thanks to Jason Kurth, FCSD Technology Director) for sharing this!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Breakfast with Grandma - - News - Fairfield, IA - Fairfield Ledger -

Breakfast with Grandma - - News - Fairfield, IA - Fairfield Ledger -

Technology, Music, Connecting the World

I just visited with our music teacher, Mr. Grunwald, who shared some amazing videos with me. The Libertyville and Washington Elementary theme for the year is "A Collaboration Age." Our goal has been to move beyond the physical walls of our building to create collaboration among staff in various buildings, to encourage community and parent involvement, and to enrich the learning opportunities for our students.

I think you'll enjoy the following videos, and will be able to clearly see how powerful technology can be in supporting "A Collaboration Age.

Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir - 1

Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir - 2

Thank you Mr. Grunwald!

Also, for fun, visit this music and "old school" technology masterpiece! Touch Wood

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Standards-Based Report Cards

Next year, all Fairfield Elementary students in grades k-4 will receive the new standards-based report card. Currently, kindergarten and 1st grade are using this type of report card. Rather than students receiving the traditional As and Bs, or the common elementary Es and Ss, They will receive scores of 1-5. I read a great article today that provides a nice overview of the change.

Why Formative Assessments Matter | Edutopia

Why Formative Assessments Matter | Edutopia

This is a great article. Formative assessment is foundation for Response to Intervention.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Do You Cha Cha?

Cha Cha is a free information service. People can text limitless types of questions to 242-242 (cha-cha) and receive answers in 1-5 minutes.

I learned about Cha Cha from my teenagers.  This is a go-to source of information and entertainment for my daughter. During the last year we have "cha-cha-ed" to find out:
  • How is powdered milk made?
  • Can two baby birds hatch from one egg? (sparked from a family conversation about The Decorah Eagles.
and of course...
  • How does olive oil lose its virginity?
When I realized that my daughter was using Cha Cha, it reminded me of a story that I heard last year about a kindergarten student.  The teacher asked the class how they could find out how snow is made. Her goal was to talk about encyclopedias. One kindergarten student piped up, "If I had one of those fancy phones, I would look it up on Google."

I have noticed that our family tends to use Cha Cha most when we are out and about, having conversations, and are curious about random things. More and more frequently I catch myself saying, "Hey, let's Cha Cha that." Tonight, we were talking about the third Decorah eagle egg. The discussion meandered from "Do you think it will hatch?" to "What will the eagles do if it doesn't?" and then "Can two eaglets hatch from one egg?" Our family conversation didn't end with us all wondering. We just asked Cha Cha, and learned something new!

So, what do you say? Do a little dance...? Try cha cha!

ChaCha is like having a smart friend you can call or text for answers on your cell phone anytime for free! ChaCha works with virtually every provider and allows people with any mobile phone device - from basic flip phones to advanced smart phones - to ask any question in conversational English and receive an accurate answer as a text message in just a few minutes.
What’s your question?
Simply text your question to 242242 (spells ‘ChaCha’) or call 1-800-2ChaCha (800-224-2242) from your mobile phone to ask any question. What are you waiting for? Ask away!

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Thanks to Mr. Wear for sharing this video!

Boxtops for Education

How you can help

 Here are a few ways you can help our schools:
  • Count and submit Box Tops before the big submission times, in October and February.
  • Put a Box Tops collection bin at your workplace, place of worship, health club, or other places you regularly spend time.
  • Get friends and family members to contribute by collecting Box Tops and signing up for Box Tops online. No matter where they live, they can make a difference for your school!
  • Let your school know you’re ready and willing to do what they need. 
Coupons for Boxtop Items
Bonus Boxtops

An Idea for Web-Based Portfolios

When I completed my administrative portfolio during the fall of 2009, I wanted to go paperless. I have several 3-ring binder style portfolios which sit neatly on the shelf in my office, each one artistically crafted like a scrapbook. They are a snapshot in time of my teaching and administrative experiences. Each was shared with an evaluator, professor, or family members. They are fun to look through, to reminisce, but really serve no long-term purpose.

At the time that I completed my 2009-2010 portfolio, I wasn't fluent in wiki use or with Google Sites. I knew I wanted my portfolio to be in an electronic format that was easy to share. I purchased Adobe Pro, which worked really well for what I thought I wanted. I was able to basically create an electronic version of my former 3-ring binder style portfolios. It was easy to burn the file to discs and mail to the University. I figured out how to cut the bulk. But, I hadn't figured out how to quickly and easily share my materials, or how to quickly and regularly update the artifacts within my portfolio.

I started a Google Site at one time. Andy Crozier, tech educator extraordinaire, shared a template with educators. For whatever reason, I didn't make it back to the site on a regular basis. This year I started using a wiki with my staff to share all kinds of information and files. It finally hit me! The wiki is easy to update and easy to share.

At the time of this post, most of the artifacts listed on my portfolio wiki are from my 2009-2010 e-portfolio. I still need to add in descriptions. Hopefully this will inspire you to leave the 3-ring binders and hanging file folder portfolios on the shelf for good!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Learning CPR, Telemetry vs. Data, and RTI

In the Pyramid Response to Intervention (PRTI) framework, Austin Buffum describes Tier II and Tier III interventions as "Learning CPR". He shares a scenario about a student who suffered an asthma attack at school. The student's medical needs were obvious and critical. A clearly articulated school emergency plan was implemented, and ultimately saved the student's life. Buffum goes on to discuss how the typical educational system is so much slower at responding to students' learning deficits and crises. So slow in fact, that students sometimes die a slow academic death as they fall further and further behind. He proposed that a ubiquitous PRTI system would recognize, assess, intervene, and reassess students' learning needs, providing ongoing support by highly qualified professionals. This new culture of learning is timely, targeted, and directive.

A recent "tweet" by John Carver, added to my thinking about this medical analogy for education. He wrote, "Old thinking "Data" is [a] dated snap shot of a condition[.] New thinking "telemetry" is real time input from multiple channels." I envisioned the telemetry monitors that I saw in the nurses stations at the hospital where my mother worked when I was a child. Sitting at the desk, the nurse could glance up and see exactly how each patient was doing at that precise moment. In my mind, "Telemetry may be the key... But, do they use telemetry for every patient? When do they implement it? When do they remove it? ... Telemetry? When do medical professionals use this technology? How does it connect to RTI and learning CPR?"

My husband is a critical care paramedic, who works for Lifeflight at Methodist Hospital in Des Moines. He is a trauma specialist on the front lines of the medical scene. I started questioning him about these thoughts. During his career, he has always worked for hospital-based ambulance or flight services. This means that he works within the hospital setting when not at a scene or transferring patients. Surely if I had seen these telemetry monitors as a visitor, he had a much deeper understanding of their use.

Patients in the hospital intensive care unit (ICU) are directly monitored all of the time. They are hooked up to cardiac heart monitors, automatic blood-pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters, and other specialty devices. They have the most specialized medical staff, and the smallest staff to patient ratio. There is one nurse for every one to two patients. Telemetry is not used with these patients because of the low staff to patient ratio and the constant assessment taking place by all of the medical devices.

A patient is ready to leave the ICU when they are stable - medications and medical interventions are working. The medical team determines that the patient is ready to "step down" at this point. The Step-Down Unit is where telemetry is used. Patients need to be monitored, but are no longer hooked up to many of the specialty devices used in the ICU. The staff to patient ratio changes in the Step-Down Unit to about 5:1. When the medical team determines that patients do not require step-down care to remain stable, they are either discharged or moved to long-term care.

In my mind, the ICU correlates to Tier III interventions, and Step-Down care correlates to Tier II interventions. As educators we very rarely move directly to the ICU stage from Tier I core instruction. From my husband's perspective as a critical care paramedic, this is the opposite. His patients almost always go to the ICU first. In his paradigm, patients rarely move from home or long-term care to Step-Down, and then to ICU. Typically, there is an "event" and medical staff intervene swiftly with the highest intensity. Past educational practice also often moved students from general education directly to a special education placement, Tier I to Tier III. But why? Was there a critical event?

Many students were not having "an event" that would warrant this level of intervention. What happened to the middle ground?

At this point in my thinking about RTI and the Learning CPR analogy, I have wandered away from thinking strictly about "telemetry" and have started thinking about the idea of "learning events" as signals for intervention. Please continue reading at your own risk, as the waters get a little muddy at this point.

As we grow in our profession, I think we have more skills to provide a comprehensive Tier I and Tier II program. The medical analogy above is missing a piece, the family practice physician. The critical care paramedic has a specialized set of skills, life-saving skills, but they are narrow compared to the skills of a physician. Every time I ask my husband about a rash I get a same response "Are you bleeding? Are you having chest pain? Follow my finger with your eyes? ... Sorry, I don't do rashes. You need to see the doctor."

Most interventions in Tier I are for those "rashes." But even a rash needs diagnosed and monitored. Some are simply rashes. With time, ointment, and some TLC they clear up. But, other rashes are symptoms of a more serious illness. The physician recognizes the rash, and prescribe specific medications. Then, they have patients come back in a few weeks for a check-up, and try other medications if necessary. This usually happens several times before a specialist gets involved.

When the specialist joins the team, they don't say, "Let's cut off your arm. That will clear up your rash... Medic!" They continue a cyclic process of testing, treating, monitoring, and testing. Educational specialists include reading and math intervention teachers, special education teachers, school psychologists, school social workers, and other service care providers. These specialists support Tier I interventions, and may recommend Tier II interventions. The goal is to provide treatment, without involving the "medic."

I think the medical analogy for RTI is a good one. The analogy isn't as cut and dry as I first envisioned when I started writing this post a week ago. But then again, the learning process isn't as cut and dry as was once believed either.