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 He appeared tired, withdrawn, and unhappy.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