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  • 10 Dec 2022 9:25 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By: Greg George

    Mathematics educators are continuously looking for active engagement strategies that keep students “in the game” of learning. After all, we want more for our students than having them passively watch their teachers do all the talking, the thinking, and the mathematics on a daily basis. While there are numerous instructional routines that enhance student engagement, Think-Pair-Share can be a routine that promotes access and opportunity for all students in math classrooms if planned and used with intentionality.

    How does Think-Pair-Share work? It all begins with a well-selected prompt.

    Think: Give students 2-3 minutes of quiet, individual time for thinking and writing initial thoughts around the prompt. This is an opportunity for students to draw on prior knowledge and independently engage with the prompt, formulating and documenting “rough draft” thinking. An essential component for consideration, though, is that the prompt must be accessible to all students with multiple entry points and multiple solution pathways. For teachers, this is a formative assessment opportunity for seeing which students are diving in with confidence, which students are pursuing ideas with revisions or restarts, and which students are coming up empty with no thoughts documented whatsoever. The key is giving just enough time for students to fully understand the prompt and get started with ideas, yet not enough time to completely finish.

    Pair: Once every student has initial thoughts on paper, now they have something to talk about. Whether it’s with a partner or a table group, give students time for talking about their initial thoughts with others. This is a great place for sentence starters and language frames in supporting academic conversations for all learners (especially multilingual learners). The power behind this phase of the routine is that every students’ voice is heard and contributes to the conversation. This ensures all students actively participate instead of hiding behind those who voluntarily engage in class. This kind of language-rich routine levels the playing field for all students and reduces the dependence on authority and passive involvement by empowering students to independently voice and shape ideas (Zwiers & Crawford, 2011). For teachers, this is time for monitoring student responses and conversations, taking an inventory of the responses for what was expected, unique strategies or solution methods, and possible error analysis opportunities. This is a critical stage for the teacher, as the monitoring of responses is providing insights for which samples will be selected for the whole group conversation.

    Share: This is not sharing for the sake of sharing in a whole group setting; rather, this is a well-organized and thoughtful display of select student work samples that will promote conversation and shared understanding that aim toward the mathematical learning goals of the lesson. Plus, it’s centered around ideas and solutions from the students themselves, honoring their thinking and providing another avenue for whole group participation. The key is the selecting and sequencing of responses in a way that tells a mathematical story, connecting the responses together. Essentially, this is a culmination of anticipating, monitoring, selecting, sequencing, and connecting, “designed to help teachers to use students’ responses to advance the mathematical understanding of the class as a whole by providing teachers with some control over what is likely to happen in the discussion as well as more time to make instructional decisions by shifting some of the decision making to the planning phase of the lesson” (Smith & Stein, 2018). And never let a common error or misunderstanding go to waste in this moment. Engaging students in error analysis not only increases academic discourse naturally, but it’s engaging student in higher-order thinking and reasoning skills as stated in Standard for Mathematical Practice #3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. (Although, when examining responses that contain errors or misunderstandings that lead to valuable teaching moments, it is best advised to use anonymous student work.) After the sequence of student responses is complete, the class is now at a launching point for a new task, direct instruction, or a formal wrap-up of the lesson. Success here is dependent upon intentionality in the moment and knowing the outcome for sharing student responses. The alternative is asking the ever-so-risky question “Who would like to share?” With this question, the teacher has to prepare for anything and everything that comes their way with full awareness that the goals of the lesson could be compromised by a single tangential response or a continuous stream of random and haphazard responses that lack coherence, cohesion, or any form of preplanning.

    If the goal is to have learning outcomes achieved by design for all students, we cannot rely on instructional routines that are left up to chance to only benefit some. Think-Pair-Share is one such routine that addresses the following questions:

    • How might we draw on students’ prior mathematics knowledge as an entry point to the lesson and build off those ideas in exploring new content?

    • How might we get all student voices in the conversation and have all students contribute in a meaningful way during the lesson?

    • How might we use student work and responses to drive academic conversations among students, facilitated by the teacher, aimed toward the mathematical learning goals of the lesson?

    Think-Pair-Share can be effective in the mathematics classroom as a routine that keeps students and their ideas at the forefront of the lesson through thoughtful and choreographed facilitation.


    Smith, M. S., & Stein, M. K. (2018). 5 Practices for orchestrating productive mathematics discussions, 2nd edition. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. 

    Zwiers, J., & Crawford, M. (2011). Academic conversations: Classroom talk that fosters critical thinking and content understandings. Stenhouse Publishers.

    Greg George is the K-12 Mathematics Coordinator for St. Vrain Valley Schools, serving as a former high school math teacher and a current affiliate faculty member at Regis University. Follow Greg on Twitter @SVVSDMath.

  • 10 Dec 2022 8:51 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By Cyle Ercolino, Bianca Estrada, Lauren Gouldey, Gage Honneger, Hayes Horstmeyer, Alexa Hudson, Bradley Irwin, Annabeth Johnson, Jakobe Jones, Jack Robitaille, Ndiaw Samb, Jo Smeby, Abby Snogren, Sean Sullivan, and Matt Moulton

    This blog post has lots of authors. The first fourteen authors are many different things. They are storytellers, artists, musicians, scientists, servers, dancers, travelers, and so much more. I (Matt, assistant professor and teacher educator) am lucky enough to learn with and from them on a twice-a-week basis this semester. They are all future teachers and this was a semester we spent in a Colorado middle school. I asked them what they learned. Here is their collective response. 

    Thoughts on the middle school students

    Jakobe, an icon, barista, art teacher in training, shared “Kids like teachers who allow them to be themselves.” Murmurs of agreement went around the room. Hayes, preparing to enter math classrooms while also working sound booths and constructing tetrahedrons out of paper, agreed and shared that connections to student identities bear fruit in classrooms. Whether you comment on their beanie, the book they’re reading, the band on their shirt, each little conversation builds positive relationships and helps nurture students during the second most physical and mental developmental period in their lives.

    Annabeth, a becoming social studies teacher with at least two jobs on top of being a student, relayed “You learn so much about kids in a middle school that can translate across the board to different grade levels. I have learned more from the kids…My cooperating teacher is amazing…but I am learning way more from the kids.”

    Runner, ray of sunshine, and future social studies educator, Abby, said, “Positive affirmations go a long way. Middle school students will respond well to positive feedback. This is a big time when students are deciding their in/out of school identities. If we can be positive and affirming teachers, they will probably be more likely to acknowledge that they are good at school.”

    Lauren, dancer and future science educator, followed up with “The more specific the affirmation or comment the more meaningful. I had one teacher who apologized for making a kid feel less than.” That intentionality speaks volumes to not just the student who is being apologized to, but to all others in the room.

    Speaking on identity and developmental changes

    Alexa, who donned the school mascot costume for a pep rally (and who happens to be in school to be a music educator), said “Between fourth and fifth grade, they are changing so much. Then middle school happens and it is wild. Wild.” 

    “In high school we thought we were evolving and changing. In reality, we were just the same people [as in middle school], just taller,” said Jo, self proclaimed not a normal horse girl and future agricultural educator.

    What role does content play?

    Cyle, a wrestler-skateboarding-veteran-social studies educator, shared some of the conversations he had with seventh graders. One revolved around the content and who teaches it. One student told him “Mr. H’s history class? I hate history but Mr H treats us like real people.” 

    Following up, Sean, Louisvillian musician and music educator, said “High school teachers love content. Elementary school teachers love kids. Middle school teachers have to love and do both.”

    “But a lot of the strategies and practices will work across grade levels,” shared Bianca, Family and Consumer Sciences educator, skater, entrepreneur, and rock collector. This broad reach of intentional practices was on display in all of the observations made over the semester. From Bianca’s FACS class and Cyle’s ELA class to the plethora of Music classes and more. For example, Samb, Senegalese French educator, had loads of opportunities to practice how strategies and intentional practices can cross content and grade level boundaries. French was not offered in our partner school. Samb and Gage (Social Studies, yoga, good vibes) spent a semester working with students in a PE class. The class gave them the opportunity to witness a different way for students to express their creativity. Gage also added that it was an opportunity to learn how to politely apologize for throwing a dodgeball a little too hard.

    Thoughts on teaching

    Jack, music educator and designer of personal tattoos, recognized a difference between personal learning style and the students’ learning preferences. Jack shared “The way I learn is different from how I have witnessed some students learn. I recognize my need to write on the board to help visual learners.” Other future teachers shared their different teaching personas, masks, hats, and how they are different depending on the audience or classroom. 

    Bradley, skilled at teaching music, playing piano, and asking the question “Who washed Washington’s white woolen underwear when Washington’s washer woman went west?” described the idea of teaching style/persona/mask/hat as something that organically develops depending on the day. He mentioned that so much is in flux in the choir classroom that he has to quite literally play it by ear.

    Preparing Middle Level Teachers

    As the instructor of the course, I learned a lot. All throughout the semester, returned to the newly revised AMLE (2022) Professional Preparation and Credentialing standards. For a thorough executive summary of the Essential Program Components of impactful middle level teacher prep programs, please visit: AMLE Professional Prep. Full disclosure, the program I teach in is not a Middle Level specific program. I can’t help but bend my class towards middle level practices, though. 

    I witnessed lots of AMLE program components evidenced in these teacher candidates.

    These teacher candidates are content experts. It takes a content expert and adept pop culture references to grab middle schooler’s attention with an Olivia Rodrigo as a main character in an explanation of the revolutionary war example. 

    These teacher candidates are advocates and allies. Their default is to listen empathetically, champion students’ identities, learn about needs and find ways to meet them.

    These teacher candidates critically reflect on their experiences and want to be better, not just for themselves but for their future students. 

    These teacher candidates learned lessons that they will hopefully take with them as they enter classrooms. I know that I learned so much from them that will influence my future classes.

  • 10 Dec 2022 8:45 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By Karen Weller Swanson and Micki M. Caskey

    As winter break approaches, we wonder about reviving the hope, beauty, and joy of teaching. Our purpose is to engage with a kaleidoscopic metaphor to suggest an approach to thinking about practice and dialogue. Our approach is to embrace the complexity of teaching which includes knowing who we are. Our goal is to illustrate how teaching is like a beautiful and ever changing mandala using practice and dialogue.

    As two experienced middle school teachers, we recognize the complexity of teaching is in constant flux.  Middle level educators “...respond to the nature of young adolescents in all their amazing diversity and are designed specifically to support the developmental needs and social identities of students” (Bishop & Harrison, 2021, p. 3). The work of middle school teaching is kaleidoscopic in nature. We are going to focus on how practice (teaching) and dialogue (reflection and mentoring) can positively impact teachers.

    Practice and Dialogue

    Teaching nudges us to think and rethink our practice, sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance. Bishop and Harrison (2021) state that middle school teacher development also is responsive to the needs of teachers. They suggest that professional development “ job-embedded, extends over a sustained duration, and is built on a model of ongoing coaching, feedback, and reflection” (p. 49). We believe that intentionally developing a practice and dialogue model grows the teacher identity for all who participate. Practice and dialogue can be a professional learning community, an integrated team, content area groups, or friends.

    We view practice as pedagogy, content and instructional choices, building classroom communities, parent communication, and creating inclusive environments for all learners. We also view it holistically much like Maxine Greene (1988) who explained: 

    It is through and by means of education that they [teachers] may become empowered to think about what they are doing, to become mindful, to share meanings, to conceptualize, to make varied sense of their lived worlds. It is through education that preferences may be released, languages learned, intelligence developed, perspectives opened, possibilities disclosed (p. 12).

    Dialogue, on the other hand, “is more than just talking, it embodies the challenging work of questioning” our practice. We are “a mirror for one another to challenge assumptions…and “to collaborate in an intimate way, and lastly, to grow individually because of investing in each other” (Swanson & Caskey, 2022, p. 9).

    To reveal the intricacies of  an integrated teaching career, we turn the kaleidoscope and consider the resulting mandala. These actions of turning and considering help us to learn and grow as teachers. We practice, and then, we dialogue about our practice. 

    We couple practice with dialogue because through dialogue teachers can further examine their practice. We view dialogue as our conversations with colleagues, team members, discussions with special education staff, talking with administrators, counselors, and parents. We agree with bell hooks (1994), an author and social activist, who asserted:

    To engage in dialogue is one of the simplest ways we can begin as teachers, scholars, and critical thinkers to cross boundaries, the barriers that may or may not be erected by race, gender, class, professional standing, and a host of other differences (p. 130).

    From practice and dialogue, we get a sounding board for ideas, reflection on instructional experiences, and problem solve. Because practice and dialogue are constant and fluid     , we get better. Practice and dialogue are at the heart of our kaleidoscopic perspective.

    A Kaleidoscopic Perspective

    We use a kaleidoscopic metaphor because of its dynamic nature. A kaleidoscope illuminates the interplay of identities (teacher, caregiver, partner) that produce an integrated teaching identity. When turning the kaleidoscope, light and motion create beautiful patterns—a mandala that illustrates the complex, every-changing nature of teachers’ work. According to bell hooks (2003): 

    [T]he classroom is one of the most dynamic work settings precisely because we are given such a short amount of time to do so much. To perform with excellence and graceteachers must be totally present in the moment, totally concentrated and focused. (p. 14).

    The eye pieceallows you to look inside the kaleidoscope and focus on images produced when turning the kaleidoscope. It symbolizes a starting point, a position, or stance from which a person engages with life and the world. In the case of teachers, it is your perspective of the teaching practice. 

    The central section is the viewing tube, encircling a set of mirrors. Most kaleidoscopes have three rectangular, lengthwise mirrors that reflect and produce an image. By turning and re-turning the viewing tube, you can reflect on your teaching practice.

    The end cap securely holds the pieces of glass that move in relation to one another when turning the kaleidoscope. In our metaphor, these colored pieces of glass stand for multiple identities. For example, we are both moms, spouses, sisters, friends, colleagues, mentors, as well as teachers.

    You control the turning of the kaleidoscope and the every-change beauty of the mandala. Choosing a kaleidoscopic perspective actively engages you in creating and interpretingthe beauty. A key element is a quality light source. As an instrument of reflection, the source of light makes the difference. Bright sunlight makes the colored pieces dance, while a dim lamp seems to make them float softly. Both options are beautiful but deliver different experiences. What illuminates an integrated identity can include friends, mentors, and respected educational leaders. Light can also come from students, peers, a pedagogical book, or self-reflection. 

    Our goal is to encourage teachers to bring themselves—their whole being—into the classroom. Teachers’ multiple identities are active, interrelated, and inextricably woven together. Taking      time to breathe and reflect allows teachers to form a rich, strong, multi-faceted, and ever-changing mandala. We find that turning the kaleidoscope can lead to ever-changing mandalas with the benefits of activating creativity, building avenues for growth, quieting emotions and stress, and improving focus (Singh, 2021). 

    We find hope that the intentional use of practice and dialogue anchors our professional work. We believe that a kaleidoscopic perspective helps us value the beauty in small changes, while also grasping the joy we feel when turning the endcap and creating new patterns. 


    Bishop, P. A., & Harrison, L. M. (2021). The successful middle school: This we believe. Association for Middle Level Education. 

    Greene, M. (1988). The dialectic of freedom. Teachers College Press.

    hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.

    hooks, b. (2003). Teaching community. A pedagogy of hope. Routledge.

    Singh, N. (2021, June 3). Mandala: A blend of history, religion, and psychology. The Mind Fool.

    Swanson, K. W., & Caskey, M. M. (2022). Mentoring dialogue and practice: A transformative experience. Journal of Transformative Learning, 9(1), 8–17.


    Karen Weller Swanson, teacher, Timberview Middle School in Colorado Spring. As an eighth grade science teacher and former academic, she mentors teachers. Her teaching and research focus on mentoring and teachers and teacher candidates

    Micki Caskey, professor emerita, Portland State University. As an academic and former  practitioner, she mentors educators. Her teaching and research focus on mentoring teacher candidates and teachers.

  • 6 Nov 2022 9:59 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    By: Carrie Yantzer

    “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 

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  • 4 Nov 2022 1:29 PM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    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):

    1. Implementing the Framework of the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships

    2. Sharing Leadership

    3. Action Planning

    4. Evaluating

    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: 

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    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.Table Description automatically generated with low confidence

    Sharing Leadership

    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.

    Action Planning

    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:

    • Surveys

    • Focus groups

    • Anecdotal observations

    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. 

  • 4 Nov 2022 1:13 PM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    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.

    Works Cited

    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.

  • 4 Nov 2022 1:05 PM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    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.

  • 4 Oct 2022 12:05 PM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    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.

    At me.

    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.

  • 4 Oct 2022 12:02 PM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    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].

    Colorado Department of Education (2017). Essential Skills Guidance.

    Colorado Department of Education (2022). School View Data Center [interactive data set].

    Wentzel, K. R. (2002). Are effective teachers like good parents? Teaching styles and student adjustment in early adolescence. Society for Research in Child Development, 73(1), 287–301.

    Kevin has been an educator for over 21 years and serves as the Weld Re-4 District Coordinator for Attendance and Discipline.

  • 4 Oct 2022 11:59 AM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

    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

    CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved September 13, 2022,  from

    CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from

    Novak, K. (2021, April 23). What is UDL? Infographic - Novak Educational Consulting. Novak Education. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from

    Emily and Mandy are part of the Instructional Technology Team in Weld RE-4 School District. 

Colorado Association of Middle Level Education


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