W.I.N. – What’s Important Now – YOU!!
“If you are okay, everything and everyone around you will be okay.” This is a something my beautiful mother said to me daily. I never understood what this statement meant until after she passed away at the young age of 54. What we “GET” to do as school leaders should be our PASSION not just a JOB. Having a W.I.N. perspective (What’s Important Now) is about making the time to focus on YOU! Our own personal self/care and wellness is something we often put on “hold” as school leaders. But before we can take care of our students, staff, and others we MUST take care of ourselves.
When is the last time you intentionally focused on YOU? The W.I.N. Perspective is realizing that what’s important now is you. As a school leader you need to take care of your body, heart, mind, and purpose. When we intentionally focus on making sure we are okay, everything and everyone around us will also be okay.
BODY (physical): This is your overall physical health.
Are you eating healthy?
Are you drinking water?
Are you taking breaks?
Have you given your eyes a break from the screen?
Are you sleeping?
HEART (emotional): School leaders we are natural nurturers to others, and we often empty our own fuel tanks of life for others. We are always giving ourselves for the greater good. Emotionally are you setting clear boundaries on your time and energy?
Who are the influencers in your life?
Are you spending time with people you care about and who care about you?
MIND (psychological): When was the last time you took time for personal reflection?
Have you noticed your own feelings and thoughts?
Have you made time for you to learn, think and grow?
PURPOSE (spirituality): This is your ability to connect to your inner “why” of life. This is about you, if you pray, pray, if you meditate, mediate. Visualize your own purpose.
Have you looked for ways to affirm your own purpose?
Are you letting your purpose drive your mission and vision?
W.I.N. can come in a variety of ways for each individual and it’s important to take the time to identify what a W.I.N looks like for you.
Carrie Yantzer, Leadership Development Strategist for Capturing Kids’ Hearts and Retired Middle School Principal
By: Darcy Hutchins, Ph.D.
November in Colorado is Family and School Partnership in Education Month. While family, school, and community partnerships (FSCP) are important for positive student outcomes all year, now is a good time to identify and celebrate current practices and set some goals for how you’d like to improve.
Over fifty-five years of research indicate the importance of Families, Schools, and Communities Partnering (FSCP) for student learning. National data shows that students gain academically, as well as behaviorally, when families and school staff work together to support student success. Current and notable research findings include that:
Parent-Community Ties is one of five “essential elements” of school improvement (Hart et al., 2020).
Students have better attendance and higher reading comprehension scores when districts, schools, and public charter schools conduct home visits (Sheldon & Jung, 2018).
School-initiated, specific family participation programs - such as shared reading, homework checking, and teamed two-way communication -are significantly and positively related to academic achievement for students at all levels (Epstein et al., 2018).
These data findings show that perhaps the greatest challenge surrounding FSCP is not whether they impact student achievement. Rather, the greater challenge is what is needed for high quality partnership structures and how to sustain and embed through structures in established organization. This article includes information about the components of a comprehensive partnership structure that can support student learning, as well as promising partnership practices for middle schools to when considering how to partner with every family to support every student.
Components of a Comprehensive Partnership Structure
As more research and examples of promising practices emerge, districts, schools, and public charter schools are beginning to move away from “random acts of partnership” to instead have a comprehensive, sustainable partnership structure that aligns with school improvement goals and student outcomes. The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) recommends that schools implement the following four components of comprehensive FSCP, adapted from Dr. Joyce Epstein’s research (2018):
Implementing the Framework of the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships
Framework of the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships
In 2009, state legislation mandated that Colorado align its FSCP work with the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships (2022). These Standards help schools to organize FSCP outreach to partner with every family to support their children’s learning both inside and outside of school. The National Standards are:
CDE has several resources available to guide and support districts, schools, and public charter schools in implementing and customizing the National Standards to best meet the needs of their local populations. The National Standards goals and indicators are outlined at National Standards.
There is also a Starting Points Inventory for school staff to complete, ideally with advice from families, to determine whether the site is emerging, progressing, or excelling in each of the National Standards.
Finally, CDE annually collects Promising Partnership Practices from schools and districts across the state, aligned with the National Standards.
The Flamboyan Foundation, located in Washington, D.C. conducted a summary of current FSCP research to determine which partnership initiatives have the highest impact on student achievement. This graphic shows the summary of their findings. When viewing this graphic, it is important to note that while the initiatives on the right side have a higher, direct impact on student achievement, the lower impact strategies are still good things to do. Celebrations, potlucks, and fundraisers may not directly lead to better student grades and test scores. However, many of the lower impact strategies indirectly impact achievement by creating a welcoming climate of partnerships.
School staff, particularly principals, have many opportunities to share leadership with families, community members, classroom teachers, and support staff. These teams include the School Accountability Committee (SAC), PTAs or PTOs, culture clubs, etc. Effective FSCP teams include families that mirror “significantly represented populations of students” in the school. Teams are most likely to be sustainable when the leaders:
Help members communicate with each other.
Plan goal-oriented partnerships.
Conduct useful meetings with a good agenda.
Make decisions collegially and share leadership for planned activities.
Continue to write and implement plans to improve partnerships.
Schools in Colorado write a Unified Improvement Plan (UIP) to identify and prioritize major improvement strategies. Schools should reach out to families on the SAC and beyond to gather input on include FSCP initiatives in the plan.
Additionally, districts, schools, and public charter schools identify as Priority Improvement or Turnaround must include on their UIP how they work with families to improve student outcomes. Schools may also use this strategy guide to help FSCP teams plan and evaluate their work.
Evaluating FSCP work is no easy task, many initiatives indirectly, rather than directly, impact achievement. FSCP teams should think through how to measure impact of both individual initiatives and the partnership structure as a whole.
Counting heads in a room is only one, rather superficial, way to measure the success of a school’s FSCP. Other methods of evaluation include:
The Colorado Department of Education has several evaluation tools to help schools effectively evaluate FSCP initiatives and whole programs of partnership.
Putting it All Together
Family-school-community partnerships are an essential component of district, school, and public charter school improvement and, more important, student success. Moving from ineffective to effective partnerships is a team effort. As the old Chinese proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Change does not happen overnight, yet the impact of FSCP is strong indisputable when implemented intentionally.
Epstein, J. L., Sanders, M. G., Sheldon, S. B., Simon, B. S., Salinas, K. C., Jansorn, N. R., ... & Williams,
K. J. (2018). School, family, and community partnerships: Your handbook for action. Corwin Press.
Hart, H., Young, C., Chen, A., Zou, A., & Allensworth, E. M. (2020). Supporting School Improvement:
Early Findings from a Reexamination of the" 5Essentials" Survey. Research Report. University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.
Sheldon, S. B., & Jung, S. B. (2018). Student outcomes and parent teacher home visits. Center on
School, Family, & Community Partnerships, Johns Hopkins University.
By: Kristin Kipp, Ed.D.
Middle-level educators are uniquely gifted. They brave the wilds of puberty each and every day. They think teenagers are a riot, and they possess the rare gift of facing down a roomful of thirty 13-year olds without fear. I know because I started my career as a middle school teacher. Thus, I also know that teaching can be lonely for an experienced educator. Once you’ve been in a classroom for a few years, the units you’ve always loved grow repetitive, and professional development grows stale. The antics of your beloved students that were once so endearing can stomp on your very last nerve after a long day. How can an experienced educator reinvigorate a love for the classroom? I propose that giving back to the profession through mentoring a new teacher can be the answer.
Hold on, you may protest! Is taking on more responsibility really the answer to burnout? It sounds unlikely, but yes. Let me explain. Researchers have consistently found that teacher mentors experience a renewal of their own motivation to teach as well as a renewed interest in instructional strategies (Schwan et al., 2020). Teacher mentors report that mentoring led to growth in their ability to teach but also in their ability to communicate and lead, both in their classroom and in the larger school community (Hudson, 2013). Additionally, mentor teachers develop a new identity as an educator that is grounded not only in being a great teacher but also in being a contributor to the long-term success of the profession (Andreasen et al., 2019). It’s a solid combination of benefits that can renew and refresh teaching practices, but how does it come about?
One of the most obvious benefits of mentoring for the mentor is exposure to the optimism of a new educator. New teachers come into the profession wide-eyed and full of hope, ready to change the world. Interacting with that kind of optimism can help you remember why you became a teacher in the first place. While your naïveté about teaching may have faded over the years, your original reason for becoming a teacher probably still holds true. Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, says that great organizations (and I’d add great teachers) will “keep their WHY clear year after year”(Sinek, 2009). Mentoring a new teacher can remind you of that “why.”
Another way that mentoring benefits the mentor teacher is by giving you the opportunity to re-examine your classroom practices. When a new teacher is coming in regularly to observe and discuss what’s happening in your classroom, it’s a great opportunity to look at your practices and filter them through a fresh perspective. Which practices are crucial to student achievement, relationships, or classroom culture? Why do those work? And which practices are simply habits without a clear rationale? What could you let go of? Opening up your classroom to those kinds of discussions with a new educator is eye-opening. You may find yourself letting go of some practices and opening up space for new possibilities.
Mentoring a new teacher also gives you dedicated time to observe in other classrooms, sometimes in your mentee’s classroom and sometimes as a pair in other teacher’s rooms. Simple exposure to a variety of classroom setups, approaches, and strategies can leave you with a wealth of ideas that you can bring back to your own work. Believe it or not, the crusty math teacher down the hall just may have a brilliant strategy that would simplify your daily practice immensely. Mentoring gives you the opportunity to learn it.
Finally, mentoring a new teacher gives you the opportunity to learn and apply a whole new set of communication skills. The best mentors move fluidly between three functions: offering support, creating challenge, and facilitating a professional vision (Lipton & Wellman, 2005). A mentor isn’t just a buddy to show a new teacher where the copier is. Instead, they are an experienced guide who helps new teachers become the best version of themselves through helping them see what’s possible and challenging them. Sound familiar? You need these same three functions in your work with students: supporting them, challenging them, and helping them envision a new future. As a mentor, you’ll learn new skills for coaching, which you can then turn around and apply with both students and adults. Mentoring can give you the language to inspire change.
You’re already a great teacher and a powerful classroom advocate. Mentoring can allow you to take the next step, empowering the next generation of classroom teachers while simultaneously refreshing and renewing your own classroom practice. It may not magically cure burnout, but it can certainly be a step in the right direction. Your local administrator, instructional coach, or induction program leader would love to share more about what mentoring looks like in your context.
Dr. Kristin Kipp is an experienced educator and instructional coach with a heart for teachers. She’s an Educator Development Specialist for the Colorado Department of Education where she works with new teacher induction and mentoring.
Andreasen, J. K., Bjørndal, C. R. P., & Kovač, V. B. (2019). Being a teacher and teacher educator: The antecedents of teacher educator identity among mentor teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 85, 281–291.
Hudson, P. (2013). Mentoring as professional development: “growth for both” mentor and mentee. Professional Development in Education, 39(5), 771–783.
Lipton, L., & Wellman, B. (2005). Cultivating learning-focused relationships between mentors and their protégés. In H. Portner (Ed.), Teacher Mentoring and Induction: The State of the Art and Beyond (pp. 149–165). Corwin Press.
Schwan, A., Wold, C., Moon, A., & Neville, A. (Fall 2020). Mentor and New Teacher Self-Perceptions Regarding the Effectiveness of a Statewide Mentoring Program. Critical Questions in Education, 190–207.
Sinek, S. (2009). Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Penguin.
By: Lisa Bettencourt
As an eighth grade teacher, I am always sad when May arrives. While I look forward to time off to rest and rejuvenate, it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to my students who I have grown to know and love. As the new school year rolls around, I get excited to meet my next group of students. I look forward to learning about who they are, where their interests lie, what their beliefs and values are- really, anything that gives me insight and understanding into these unique individuals. There are some years when all the pieces fall into place- when you bond well with your students and you feel like the kids were handpicked for you. And then there are the other years… The years when you go home exhausted every day. When you doubt your ability to survive the year. When you question why the counselor chose to give YOU all the boys who lack impulse control! Inevitably, we push through and are often surprised to see that those students who were the most difficult in the beginning of the year, end up being the ones you have grown closest to- the ones you will miss the most. However, getting there requires some work. How do we build those safe and trusting relationships with our students? How do we let them know that not only are they heard, but we value their input and perspective? How do we create a classroom environment where all students feel supported and included?
We have all heard counselors and administrators speak to the importance of building relationships with students, however, what does that really mean? Of course we have relationships with our kids, but are we connecting with them? Do our students feel like we care about them? About their academics as well as their social and emotional health? The beauty about being a Language Arts teacher is the ease in which we can use stories to relate to kids, whether these are published literature or our own personal stories. When our students see us being honest and vulnerable, we become someone they can relate to, and hopefully, trust. While I am constantly changing and improving my lessons, “I Wish My Teacher Knew” is one I do at the beginning of every year. This is a great opportunity to allow your students a safe place to share what they want you to know about them. Every year I am surprised by how much students are willing to disclose after only knowing me for a week. Though this lesson on its own is a powerful way to start bonding with your students, it’s the personal feedback you leave that shows kids you took the time to read and learn about them- that you truly care.
In middle school, kids work so hard to fit in- from wearing the right clothing to having the latest phone. The fear of failing in front of their peers, or being made fun of, often holds students back from participating in class discussions. Ideally, we want to create a classroom where students feel comfortable sharing ideas- where they feel like their voice is not only heard, but matters. Using texts with diverse authors helps ensure that we are providing all students with opportunities to relate to stories similar to their own. Analyzing stories and novels is a great place to start encouraging students to be brave and take risks- to share their perspective. While it is easy to acknowledge the child who always has their hand up, it is important to find ways to reach even the quietest of students. This year I started doing ‘Daily Dedications’. The students take turns dedicating class to someone who has been inspirational in their life. While the majority of my class have been excited to participate, I have a few who aren’t quite comfortable with getting up and speaking in front of the class. One such kiddo really wants to dedicate the class to her brother, but is too nervous to present. She asked, instead, if she could make a video to show. This student was telling me that she wanted to participate, but speaking in front of the class was a risk she wasn’t ready to take. Hopefully, accepting the way in which she was able to participate will build her confidence and make her feel like our classroom is a safe place where she can take risks and contribute more in class.
How do we know that we are building safe, trusting environments? That our kids feel comfortable taking risks and feel like they belong? Sometimes you just know. There are the kids who do not want to leave your class- who linger and talk to you, or the group of students who start eating lunch in your room every day. However, sometimes you don’t know the impact you made until years later when you receive an email from a student who shares that your class was their favorite. And sometimes you run into an old student at the Dairy Queen drive-thru window, and they lean their head out and ask if you remember them, which you of course do, because they were the kid you worried about- the kid who you worked so hard to make sure passed your class. He then proudly declares he’s in college and is doing great. He thanks you for believing in him- for giving him a place where he felt safe to try, a place where he felt heard- and it’s all you can do to choke back your tears and nod your head in gratitude.
Those are the moments that validate the work we have done in cultivating a safe and trusting classroom where students feel heard and accepted. It’s why we chose a difficult, and often thankless job- and yet still show up every day with a smile, love and compassion for the kids we get to work with.
By: Matt Moulton
Hi all! My name is Matt. I am an assistant professor and Undergraduate Teacher Education Program Coordinator for the Center for Educator Prep at Colorado State University. I love my job, especially when it involves being in middle schools and amongst young adolescents. I am brand new to Colorado, Fort Collins, and CAMLE and I am so honored to hold my position at CSU, be a board member for CAMLE, and teach a class for future teachers at Boltz Middle School in Fort Collins.
My students recently started their official middle school practicum experience. Our class has met for the past four weeks in the Boltz media center, we have heard from plenty of folx from the school, witnessed loads of middle schoolers jumping to touch the door frame as they walk through it, and talked a lot about community and its importance in the middle grades. We have talked about Bishop and Harrison’s Successful Middle School: This We Believe Essential Attributes, looked for evidence of their incorporation in the school hallways, and tried to apply them to Trey Kennedy’s YouTube videos with his character Maddox. Worth a watch with a grain of salt. It was hilarious, but purposeful and informative.
Another focus revolved around the Key Characteristic of “Leaders demonstrate courage and collaboration.” When considering courage and collaboration, I immediately thought of Korg and Miek.
These two heroes were introduced on film in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. Korg and Miek are reluctant gladiators who have been taken captive and forced to fight opponents for The Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum. Korg is made of perishable rock and Miek is an insect with scissors for hands. Korg does all the (hilarious) talking and Miek is always ready to have Korg’s back.
To cut a long story short, the two are freed as part of a revolution and escape on a giant spaceship. They join Thor and fight to save the people of Asgard from undead warriors in an epic battle on a bridge. Courage and collaboration abound.
At the end of the movie, Thor sits upon his throne in the spaceship and wonders where they should venture. Thor turns to Miek, who at this point is being carried by Korg, and asks “Miek, where are you from?”
Korg responds, “Ah, Miek’s dead. I accidently stomped on him on the bridge. I just felt so guilty that I have been carrying him around all day.”
Then, to Korg’s joy and excitement, Miek shakes awake. Here is a clip: Thor Ragnarok / Miek is dead scene.
I love it. This might be a bit too inside but I see it relating to courage and collaboration.
Some days we are Korg. We are made of rock–perishable rock, but rock none the less. We face the day’s challenges, we overcome the battles, we maintain a feeling of humor, joy, and possibility amongst the struggles and challenges of our jobs. We see others having a hard time. We pick them up and carry them.
Other days, we are Miek. We might be emotionally, figuratively, physically, and interpersonally stomped on. We might be at the end of our rope and in need of supports we don’t even know how to vocalize. We need someone to carry us.
I shared all this with my teacher candidates. I provided them an example of when I was the Miek in need of being carried. I named my Korg that carried me amidst the hard time. I promised to be a Korg when needed.
They all laughed.
But, some got it. Some turned to a trusted neighbor, looked them in the eye and said “I will be your Korg.”
I went on to share that middle school students learn so much from their teachers that doesn’t come in the form of a practice problem, a paper, or a formative assessment. They learn how to be active and responsible adults. When middle school students see trusted adults come alongside colleagues and supporting each other when in need, they begin to emulate that same courage and collaboration with their peers. They are always learning.
Sometimes that learning comes with a bit of whimsy and an off the wall example from a Marvel movie. Sometimes it comes from the way you give time and patience with each other.
By Kevin Copher
The past three school years have been a tumultuous time for everyone in the school system. Middle-level educators are keenly aware of the energy and challenges pre-teens and early teens experience as they assert their independence, develop critical friend groups, and navigate changing bodies and hormones. As our best hopes for this school year include a return to normalcy, we must remember that our middle-level students may not know what normalcy looks like.
In Colorado’s middle schools, state-reported discipline has dropped from 12.32% of students receiving discipline in the 18/19 school year to 3.96% in 20/21, according to the most recent data available from CDE. However, the data across all levels show increases of 3.5% for detrimental behavior and almost 4.5% for “other violations of code of conduct.” The available data is skewed given the significant variety of learning models from March 2020 to today (fully in person, hybrid, online, and switching between any and all of the models). However, widely published national surveys and anecdotal conversations point to a marked increase in discipline events in the most recent school year. Perhaps two explanations for the increase in peer-relationship misconduct are that our students who have experienced the trauma of the global pandemic are suffering from emotional dysregulation and students lack necessary peer communication skills previously taught in elementary schools.
This year, we should be more intentional about a return to basics approach. This does not mean a return to “Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmatic,” but a return to the basics of being a student and engaging in a functioning learning environment. We may need to borrow some pages from the intermediate elementary behavior management playbook as we reset expectations and routines. We must ask ourselves what behavior we want from our students and what strategies and supports need to be implemented to teach and reinforce those behaviors.
Middle school teachers in the early 2000s described ideal classrooms that promote student sharing, students helping others, persistence through challenges, inquisitiveness, and completing assignments (Wentzel, 2002). Those values and goals are still relevant today and feature prominently in CDE’s Essential Skills (CDE, 2017). We may often assume those expectations were taught at the elementary level; however, with the significant upheaval and inconsistent learning environments over the past three years, we should be more explicit about what these behaviors mean in our classrooms and schools.
CDE’s Essential Skills requirements center around entrepreneurship skills, personal skills, civic/interpersonal skills, and professional skills (CDE, 2017). Within the guidance, students spiral from novice to emerging expert (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Essential Skills Developmental Milestones
Source: CDE (2017). Essential Skills Guidance.
As we think about this school year, we may need to restart with building Novice skills. Students may need support in accurately recognizing their own emotions and how they impact their behavior, understanding and managing their impulses and behavior with minimal direction, resisting distractions, and maintaining attention to the task.
We may need to pause and re-teach. We may have previously been able to operate with the belief and understanding that 7th-grade students should be in the Advanced Beginner stages or even in Strategic Learner stages regarding their self-awareness category of personal skills. Yet, we should pause, go back to the basics, and reteach Novice-level skills. The past three years of trauma may mean we restart with a fresh approach to teaching these skills. With the mounting recent evidence of lost academic skills and performance related to the pandemic, we must also remember the lost essential skills that do not appear in school and district performance frameworks.
For example, if we want to promote students showing persistence through challenges, what lessons do we have in place that can highlight and teach this skill? How can we intentionally and explicitly teach this skill in academic and personal relationship contexts?
This year, let’s permit ourselves to go back to basics in teaching essential skills. Doing so will help us return and sustain a normal, positive, and productive learning environment. We will also thank ourselves later for the time and effort invested now in reteaching these skills with kindness and grace.
Colorado Department of Education (2022). School View Data Center [interactive data set]. https://edx.cde.state.co.us/SchoolView/DataCenter/reports.jspx?_adf_ctrl-state=pac20phbp_4&_afrLoop=2870402442216815&_afrWindowMode=0&_adf.ctrl-state=2pyn69rd7_4
Colorado Department of Education (2017). Essential Skills Guidance. http://cde.state.co.us/standardsandinstruction/2018coloradoessentialskills
Kevin has been an educator for over 21 years and serves as the Weld Re-4 District Coordinator for Attendance and Discipline.
By: Emily Goldenstein and Mandy Smith
Middle school is a melting pot where students from vastly different elementary experiences meet to take on the next portion of their educational journeys. You might be preparing students for this experience, you might teach in these grades, and some of you might be seeking perspective on where your students have come from. As educators supporting these students, we want you to consider what role technology can play in planning and delivering accessible learning for all students.
Our educational technology team in Weld RE-4 is fortunate to work closely with our instructional team. Part of our shared work involves supporting and developing building learning coaches. Through our work with our Learning Coaches and conducting instructional rounds in each of our buildings, we started to notice a theme. Our middle schools, grades 6-8, had incredibly diverse student populations. When we say diverse, we are accounting for and referring to students of different genders, races, backgrounds, interests, academic abilities, and socioeconomic statuses. While our situation is not unique to this district, we found ourselves asking, “How do we make sure all students engage and access learning?”
According to CAST, a multifaceted organization with a singular ambition of breaking down barriers, “Information that is not attended to, that does not engage learners’ cognition, is inaccessible.” As educators, we believe we must develop agency in our learners. Our students differ significantly in what attracts their attention and interests them, and it is the educator’s role to consider this. Technology not only deserves a place in classrooms and instruction, but it is also necessary to keep up with the pace at which students' interests and needs change. In our district, we invest in technology tools that support our beliefs and allow students to choose the type of product they want to create to demonstrate their learning. Some of our tools that educators love are Kami, WeVideo, MyVRSpot, and our learning management system (LMS), Canvas. When students have tools that enable them to make choices toward gaining and demonstrating knowledge, they are more likely to be engaged.
Our next consideration comes from the brilliant work of Katie Novak. In one of her blog posts, “What is UDL” she shared that students can have different barriers to learning that need to be planned for; this is called predicted variability. During conversations with our Learning Coaches and teachers, we often ask, “What challenges do you anticipate the students will face?” This coaching question helps us discuss an important point shared by CAST’s UDL Guidelines "Learning is impossible if the information is imperceptible to the learner, and difficult when information is presented in formats that require extraordinary effort or assistance.”
Technology affords teachers the opportunity to offer a variety of modalities or options for accessing learning. When sharing an assignment to your LMS, think about the format of the information; is text the only option for directions, or can you add an audio recording for greater access? A new unit begins, and you work to activate student background knowledge. Can you offer the choice of a podcast, video, visuals, and text? We work with our teachers to think about how to provide information in a format that will allow students to choose what is best for them on that day, at that moment. Presenting the information in multiple formats creates more entry points resulting in higher student engagement.
Our final consideration for you around planning and delivering accessible learning focuses on the physical act of learning. When students receive a worksheet to complete with a pencil, their physical interaction is limited. Technology can have a similar effect if not planned and executed with intentionality. Students who get on their devices to fill in the blanks of vocabulary worksheets using Kami would be one example. These limited interactions can potentially exclude learners with barriers such as dysgraphia, blindness, physical disabilities, and students with varying executive functioning skills. With the advancement of technology, the number of assistive tools available has also increased. These tools open doors to learning when implemented thoughtfully.
When you know your students’ interests and needs, you can begin to think about the structure of your lessons. What options do students have for demonstrating their knowledge? Can students physically access these options? Are there options for physical movement involved, such as station rotation? Do your lessons apply technology that enhances the lesson?
Our job is to plan for and provide accessible learning to our students. When teachers utilize technology to approach planning and teaching with considerations for helping all students succeed, the impact on student achievement is more significant. Picture the diverse population of students you serve and ask yourself, how can I leverage technology to develop more accessible learning for my students?
CAST. (2022, September 2). The UDL guidelines. The UDL Guidelines. Retrieved September 12, 2022, from https://udlguidelines.cast.org/
CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved September 13, 2022, from http://udlguidelines.cast.org
CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org
Emily and Mandy are part of the Instructional Technology Team in Weld RE-4 School District.
By: Julie Johnson
By now you’ve heard not only the acronym MTSS (multi-tiered systems of support), but also about the Tiers of instruction within its framework. MTSS is full of moving parts and can be difficult to understand. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on what Tier 1 is.
Tier 1 is high-quality classroom instruction coupled with universal screenings and in-class small group instruction. Within Tier 1 all students take a universal screening assessment and receive high-quality instruction, both of which are delivered by qualified personnel to ensure a student’s difficulties are not because of poor or inadequate instruction.
Screeners are given periodically (usually 3 times per year) to establish baseline data for both behaviors as well as academics, to identify struggling learners that might need additional support. One way to provide that support is through in-class small group instruction provided by the classroom teacher.
So what does all of this translate into for middle school? Establishing a strong Tier 1 requires team collaboration. Whether it is grade-level, content or a combination, it takes a team to stay on top of the needs of students. A good way to accomplish this is to devote time (weekly, twice a month or monthly) as a team to discuss students who are showing signs of needing added support. In identifying these students, you need a way to keep track of them. One method for doing this is to keep a running Google document where students discussed are added along with strategies tried and progress monitoring data to show what’s working and/or what is not. In addition, this is a place to keep notes on parent contacts. It is important to assign roles within teams to allow for organized, productive discussions. These can be roles such as facilitator, note-taker, time-keeper, resource officer, etc. Establishing these roles up front will keep your meetings moving forward and keep everyone on track.
Maintaining this as a running list allows the team to circle back to students, analyze collected data and brainstorm other ideas and strategies to try. Being a running document also allows for the addition of students who may present as needing additional support further into the year. This document also serves as the start of a body of evidence should a student eventually need to move to the next Tier.
I know, this all sounds great, but when do we find the time for these critical discussions? As a former middle school assistant principal with a block schedule, one plan per week was devoted to these meetings. When that is not an option, before and after school, for part of a staff meeting and as part of professional development days can also work. Get creative, but make sure you find the time for this crucial Tier 1 activity. The more students we can successfully support at Tier 1, the stronger the school as a whole.
Below is a link to a list of Tier 1 strategies that we use in our district.
Tier 1 strategies
Julie Johnson is the MTSS Specialist for Weld RE-4 School District.
Of course we don’t want to belabor this point, but 21-22 was a REALLY tough year for many reasons. One of the lingering effects of the pandemic was the loss of our school community as we knew it. When I arrived at Longs Peak Middle School in August of 2019, the community among staff and students was the strongest I’d seen, and that sense of community acted in many ways as a safety net for students to take risks, explore their passions, and find a sense of purpose and belonging at school.
In the absence of full-time, in-person learning, many of our students turned elsewhere for that sense of safety and belonging. When they returned to in-person learning for the 21-22 school year, we began to see signs that many of our students did not view school as the source of fun, excitement, and community they once had. We spent the school year attempting to draw our students back in, cope with new and more intense behavioral needs, while at the same time putting ourselves back together as educators and as humans.
By May of 2022, we knew what we would need for a successful start to the next school year. Our leadership team asked administration to find time for staff to come together and reconnect. Staff surveys reflected a need to set and maintain high expectations and tight structures for students. We needed to heal ourselves from the past year, so that we could be whole for our kids and rebuild our vibrant school community. If we were to rebuild, then we had to start with the foundation of our most basic needs.
So we designed a back-to-basics approach: An all day staff retreat where we focused on rebuilding trust, visualizing the school year we wanted for ourselves and for our students, and making a plan to bring that visualization to life.
All teachers participated in Kagan Cooperative Learning Day 1 training the day before kids returned to the building. Thinking about engagement, teambuilding, academic conversations, and involving every child was the perfect way to kick off the week. On the first day of school, our admin team walked through every classroom, and I have never seen as much movement, conversation, and joy on the first day as I did this year.
Each grade level committed to a weekly or bi-weekly all-grade team building activity during our advisory class, RamReady.
Using student input, teachers worked with their classes to create a list of what characterizes a safe community. In what type of class do I feel safe? Unsafe? What am I willing to do to contribute to a safe school community?
Anyone reading this knows we did nothing flashy or new. In fact, it is in attending to and acknowledging our most basic needs as humans that we have found our path to healing. It’s been the commitment to a fundamental idea that is helping to bring us back: We are a community. We look out for one another. This community is dedicated to giving you every opportunity to succeed. You want to be part of it. And, as part of this community, you have responsibilities.
Start with the assumption that all of our kids want to belong, because they do. Remember that our students will rise when asked to be part of something meaningful and exciting. Building on that foundation will create the conditions for a nurturing, collaborative, and robust learning community where we can all thrive.
By Sandy Heiser, Principal of Longs Peak Middle School in Longmont, Colorado.
Colorado recognizes exemplary schools serving middle level students in grades 5-9 alongside the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform through the Schools to Watch program. Thirteen schools from across the state currently hold a Schools to Watch designation, which is based on four categories: Academic Excellence, Social Equity, Developmental Responsiveness, and Organizational Structure. Middle Schools designated as a School to Watch are honored annually at the Colorado Association of Middle Level Education (CAMLE) conference, as well as in Washington D.C. at the national Schools to Watch conference.
Colorado Schools to Watch demonstrate a trajectory of success and exhibit replicable practices for middle grades students.
The School to Watch application for 2023 designation is now available! If you are interested in learning more, consider joining us on October 7th at the CAMLE preconference and visit your choice of three schools designated as a Colorado School to Watch. Additionally, the annual CAMLE conference will feature a Schools to Watch session to learn more about the application criteria, process, and selection. More information can be found on the CAMLE conference website.
By: Katie Gustafson
CAMLE.Colorado Association of Middle Level Education
mailing address: CAMLE • 4650 E. Amherst Ave. • Denver • CO • 80222CAMLE is a 501(c)6 non-profit organization.