Public School Proud…New Lexington teachers engage students through whole brain teaching


Happy New Year!  Hope everyone enjoyed the holiday season.  I certainly enjoyed spending extra time with family.  I am ready now to get back to our school visits.

Prior to the holiday break, I had the opportunity to visit New Lexington schools.  Jenny Shiplett, the union President at New Lexington and a second-grade teacher, had been trying to schedule a visit with us for a while, but we were not able to make it until Dec. 18 – yes!  The Monday before holiday break.  She warned us that things might be a little chaotic that day given that it was Reindeer Day and the students were going to be practicing for their Christmas program.  I was amazed though at how well-behaved and on-task the students were during the visit.

As I have mentioned before, elementary classrooms are incredible places to visit.  The teachers pack learning into every nook and cranny of the classroom and turn normal every day tasks into learning opportunities.  Take, for example, morning check-in in Jenny’s second-grade classroom.  sure, she could just do a normal roll call, but instead, she has a board at the front of the room where children sign in by solving some kind of problem each day.  If you look at the picture above, you will see that Mondays are Marvelous Math Mondays.  To sign in on that particular day, students had to think of a three digit number that was greater than 102 and less that 212 – and they could not duplicate someone else’s answer.  What a great way to review math concepts and jump start the brain for the day.

Another picture at the top shows one wall of Susan Teal’s fifth-grade classroom.  She has over 2,000 books in her room sorted by series and/or author.  This inviting set-up can only encourage students to read one book after another.

The second picture in the top row shows two students talking about their four-square drawings in Janice Coleman’s first-grade classroom.  The drawings are a way that students reflect upon a story as it is being read to them.  Janice stops periodically throughout the book to let them fill in the squares.  In the middle of the page, the students write the title of the book.  Then, in the first square, they draw a picture of what the think the story is going to be about.  In the second square, they draw the character.  In the third square, the setting.  In the fourth square, the ending.  Prior to the ending of the book, the students flip their papers over and predict how the story is going to end.  This four-square activity not only keeps students involved int he story, but also embeds important literary concepts.  And it is fun so the students want to do it!

The bottom right picture shows Heather Spafford’s kindergarten classroom.  As I always try to do, I talked with the kindergarten class about all they have learned this year, and we read a few stories.  I wanted to get a picture of the classroom though to show another example of how teachers are being creative with space.  So often, I hear people talking about how our classrooms have not changed in decades – that students are still sitting in rows listening to a teacher provide content.  This simply is not true.  Our teachers are creating learning environments that are comfortable, inviting, and crammed full of learning opportunities.

All the above examples are just a sampling of all the great teaching that is happening at New Lexington Schools.  Where I spent the most time during my visit though was in two second-grade classrooms, Jenny Shiplett’s and Tammy Cook’s, watching how they use whole brain teaching.  Jenny had mentioned this to me during an earlier visit with her prior to beginning of the school year, and I had been wanting to come back to observe ever since then.

I am a novice to whole brain teaching, but first became intrigued by it a few years ago when I attended a workshop help but he Cleveland Teachers Union.  Even as an adult, the techniques used during the demonstration were engaging and kept me involved during the entire session.  I had never seen a whole lesson taught that way though so was thrilled to have a chance to observe at New Lexington.

On the day I was there, Tammy’s class was reviewing nouns and verbs.  The first thing I noticed was how Tammy got the class’s attention.  She used a call out and answer system where she would use the word “class” and they would answer with “yes.”  Seems simple but the active engagement part of this is that they had to answer in the same way that she called out.  For example, if she “Oh class, oh class,”  they would answer, “Oh yes, oh yes”  or  “Class,class,class” would be answered with “Yes,yes, yes.”  This simple but effective strategy makes the students an active part of the class.  They have to both listen to what has been said and make a verbal response, not just take a passive action.

Tammy then used hand gestures along with a verbal definition to review the concept of noun.  A noun is a person (thumbs pointing at shoulders), place (palms down pretending like you are smoothing out sand), or a thing (hands patting the desk). she repeated this several times with the students mimicking the words and actions with her.  They then used the hand gestures with several nouns to practice (Ex – teacher is a person so thumbs pointing at shoulders, North Pole is a place so hands smoothing sand, gift is a thing so hands patting desk).  These hand gestures help the brain process the information so that the students can better remember.

After several times together, Tammy says, “Now teach.”  the students then turn to a partner and teach each other what they just learned.  This process of teaching each other both reinforces the learning (if you can teach something, then you really understand it) plus is also a quick formative assessment for Tammy to see who really got it and who didn’t.

As a final piece, the class comes back together for final review. Tammy calls on students to give examples, then the class together gives positive reinforcement for right answers (a verbal firework, a backwards swoop, lots of fun possibilities).

The beauty of this whole process is that every student is engaged during every piece of the lesson.  There are constant verbal callouts, hand gestures, teaching each other, verbal rewards – all done by every student in the class.  The energy that Tammy puts into this is incredible but seeing the children so engaged makes it worthwhile.

Of course, this lesson is just a small example of all that goes into the whole brain teaching. I was curious how all this fits into a bigger picture.  Can she see a difference in her students now as opposed to before she started using the whole brain approach.  She says yes.  AN example she gave me is the quality of writing that students are now doing.  She had the class teach me about how to turn a blah sentence (The dog barked) into a spicy sentence, an extender sentence, and a genius sentence.  Then how to apply the same concepts to writing a paragraph.  Tammy said that since she started using whole brain teaching and embedding concepts like these through verbal definitions linked with actions, the students writing has greatly improved.

Jenny Shiplett’s class was equally interesting to observe.  Since I did not have as much time in there, I did not get to observe a whole lesson, but Jenny did some review with students on sentences.  The class sang a song about sentence structure to the tune of All the Single Ladies  (quite catchy) which included hand gestures for things such as a capital at the beginning of the sentences and a period at the end.  Like the other second-grade class, she then had them “turn and teach” each other and then did a class review with verbal praise.  Again, the interesting piece to observe is how Jenny is able to keep all the students actively engaged by using verbal cues, hand gestures, teaching to each other, and shoutouts from group for individual praise.

I honestly was thoroughly impressed by the enthusiasm and energy that both Tammy and Jenny infused into their classes.  And zero discipline issues – not even minor infractions – on the Monday before Christmas break!  To me, that is a testament to the power of the strategies that these teachers are employing.

So here’s a #PublicSchoolShoutout to Tammy Cook, Jenny Shiplett, Susan Teal, Janice Coleman, Heather Spafford, and all the New Lexington Teachers.  You are another reason why we should all be #OHPublicSchoolProud.

To all my readers, I wish you a very happy new year.  Need a suggestion for a New Year’s resolution?  Commit to visiting a public school classroom this year and share what you see.  There are incredible things happening in classrooms every day.  Let’s commit to lifting up these stories and sharing our pride in our public school teachers.

Interested in having us visit your classroom? Please contact Jill Jones to schedule.

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Public School Proud…what I kept with me from Crooksville


What a whirlwind the past month has been.  The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day always seems to fly by and this year was no exception.  Though I managed to fit in three school visits during that time frame, I have been behind on writing about the experiences.  Over the next few days, I will attempt to get caught up.

The Crooksville school visit actually happened on Nov. 29.  The visit could not have happened at a more appropriate time because the spirit that I captured from that visit has lived with me throughout this holiday season.

Though we tend to think of the holidays as happy, joyous occasions, the truth of the matter is, many people experience sadness, loss, and grief during these weeks.  I noticed this even more so this year as family members, co-workers, and friends went through some of the most difficult challenges of their lives during these weeks.  What makes the experiences bearable is the love and support of the people who enter your life on a daily basis.

The teachers at Crooksville know this…and they live it.  To them, being teachers is about more than teaching students academic content.  It is also about giving the children of their community a solid foundation for dealing with life.  During this visit, more than at any of the previous ones I have done, I spent time talking with the teachers about what they do.  Over and over, I heard the same message.  These teachers love the community, they love the school, they love the students.  And not just a generic feeling, but a deep-seated love for where they are and what they do.  Many of the teachers are from the community originally.  The ones who are not say it is worth the drive to get to the school and that they have no desire to look for something closer to their homes.

This love is evident is what they do with their students – whether it be within the academic setting, through extracurriculars, or on a personal level.

Academically, the Crooksville teachers want their students to know that they have as much potential  for success as any other student anywhere else.  Over the years, Crooksville has taken advantage of grants and collaborative work to provide opportunities for students.  As one of the original districts in the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative, Crooksville partnered with Georgetown, New Lexington, and Morgan to form the Rural Ohio College High School.  Video classes were offered to give students exposure to classes that may not have been able to access otherwise.  This has since morphed into a College Credit Plus Program.  Grant money also provided for a 7th-grade summer bridge program that focused on team building with an emphasis on college preparation and for a Community Coordinator, Sean Hill.  Sean planned programs such as Alumni Days where former students came back to talk about their success, parent days to bring parents into the classrooms, and college signing days.  All these grant funded programs helped increase the number of students who attended college.

As grants for those programs expired, Crooksville pursued and received a Gear Up grant from the federal government.  This seven-year grant provides funding for college-related items such as:

  • FAFSA preparation
  • Resume building
  • Career fair
  • College visits
  • Business visits
  • College application help
  • Scholarship help/applications
  • ACT prep

In talking with the students, it is evident that this program has helped them research what colleges they want to attend, what majors they are interested in pursuing, how much college will cost, how to get financial aid, etc.

Other types of classes are also set up to help students reach their academic potential including Scott Houk’s work study life skills class for special needs students, Matt McIntyre’s First Year Success program geared at teaching students the test-taking and study skills they need to be successful in first year of college, and Jacqueline Bolyard’s eAcademy where students can do credit recovery as well as take online classes not otherwise accessible.

Beyond academic content, Crooksville uses extra-curricular programs to teach life skills such as self-discipline and work ethic.  The most successful of these programs is the Archery program.  Eighth grade teachers Adam Pontius and Jordan Pompey started the program about six years ago and have built it into a world-class program.  Over 17% of the student body in grades 4-12 participate in the program.  Through this program, students build confidence and learn that you get out of something what you put into it – a very important lesson not only for success in archery but also in school and in life.  The program has produced not only local and state champions, but also national and world champions.  The program has proven to not only be beneficial to the students but is also a way to bring together the community.  Crooksville even received an award for parent participation in an after school program.  The coaches, who teach eighth-grade math and social studies, also use the students love for archery to teach academic concepts.  For example, the scoring used in archery is a good segue for learning about mean, deviation, measuring, etc.

While all the pieces mentioned above are important parts of student success, what stands out most for me, and stayed with me during the holiday break, is the genuine love and concern the teachers show their students on a regular basis.  They know their students and touch their lives in ways that are meaningful.  For example, knowing that hunting is part of the culture of the area, they offered an after school hunter safety class in which over sixty students participated.  Sometimes it is even more personal like collecting money amongst themselves to pay for a young girl’s gymnastic competitions when her mother was faced with overwhelming medical bills or helping a challenged student shoot his first buck and pay for him to have it mounted.

That type of authentic giving of themselves – knowing what a person needs and giving it to them simply with no expectation of anything in return but simply to bring joy- is what the holiday season is really all about.  Moreover, it is what teaching is all about.  The academic content is important anon one will ever hear me say that we should make excuses for students or lower expectations, but those expectations have a much higher percentage of being met when there are caring adults providing supports along the way.

So here is my #PublicSchoolShoutout to you Crooksville teachers.  Thank you for this very special visit that touched my heart and reminded me of all the gifts our public school teachers give our students every day of the year.  Once again, I am #OHPublicSchoolProud.

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Public School Proud…if only these Grand Valley teachers had unlimited resources


According to a recent EdWeek article by Ann Ness, teachers spend an average of $600 a year on classroom supplies.  Sometimes we hear stats like that so many times that we become immune to the reality of it – not just the fact that teachers are spending money out of their own pockets, but why they are doing it.  The “why” was underscored on my recent visit to Grand Valley Local Schools in Orwell, Ohio.

The teachers in Grand Valley care deeply about their students and want to give them the best education experience possible.  Sometimes this means buying supplies out of their own pockets.  That’s the case with Elizabeth Carlson, middle school science teacher.  I could tell as soon as I walked into Elizabeth’s classroom that she is a teacher who believes that children learn by doing.  The perimeter of her room is filled with student projects ranging from popsicle stick bridge structures to scientific drawings to a musical instrument made from pool noodles.  On the day we visited, the class was working on making topographic maps of the Grand River area.  Students had Google Chrome books that they used for researching the information they needed to make their section of the map.  Groups were assigned a specific area of the region then given the supplies to recreate their section.  At the end of the project, all the pieces will be combined to show the entire region.  This type of project embeds concepts in the students’ brains in a deeper level than just learning vocabulary (such as topograhic map) or trying to read a pre-printed map from a text book.

When I asked Elizabeth what she would do with her students with unlimited resources, she quickly responded that she would buy more supplies for Makerspaces  in her classroom.  For those of you not familiar with that terminology, a makerspace is basically a collaborative workspace where students have access to materials that they can use to create and design projects.  Makerspaces range from having no-tech type materials (pool noodles, popsicle sticks, shoe boxes, etc) to high tech materials (3D printers, laser cutters, etc).  Teachers like Elizabeth who value makerspaces do so because they know that students develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, self-esteem, and so many other skills important for lifelong success by desginign and creating.  Given what Elizabeth is already accomplishing with the limited funds that she has ( and with many of those funds coming from her own pocket), I can only imagine what could happen with more resources.

Another way teachers give of themselves to compensate for lack of funds is by giving up their time.  Luke Strohm is a teacher who does that.  Because the district is short on teachers, Luke teaches a blended freshman English/Senior Honors English class.  The Honors class is actually an Independent study class that meets simultaneously with the Freshman class but which Luke also meets with during his advisory period and often his lunch time.  If he were not willing to do this, these high level students who have already exhausted their English options would not be able to take this advanced class.

I was skeptical of how this arrangement might work, so I stopped in unannounced to observe.  I was blown away by what I saw.  The combined class has forty-six students ( by the way, the class originally had twenty more but that just proved to be too many students for the type of work that Luke wants to accomplish with these students).

The depth of discussion in this classroom rivaled what you would hear in a college classroom.  The students had previously read a Ray Bradbury short story, “A Sound of Thunder,” which deals with time travel.  Some of the Honors students, who have options for assignments,  wrote and delivered political speeches about time travel.  The Freshmen worked in student-based teams where, acting as Travel Agents, they chose two destinations for time travel then discussed potential problems that could arise from traveling back in time to these areas. All this work happened in previous classes. What we got to see was the discussion that was generated from the Freshmen using the problems they had identified to react to the political speeches given by the seniors.  As the students raised concerns that touched upon religion, political beliefs, civics, and more and also drew connections to other books they had read, real political speeches they had heard, and movies they had watched, it was obvious that the students had not only engaged deeply with the text but also were learning how to analyze and synthesis information from a variety of sources.  It takes a very skilled teacher to bring this out in students, especially in a large classroom that has both general level freshmen and honors seniors.  Luke’s ability to engage all these students at the appropriate level is nothing short of amazing.

Beyond what happened that day, the underlying beauty of this class is that the freshmen are exposed, early in their high school careers, to what deep level learning looks like. They learn from their older colleagues what it takes to do high level work. They are exposed to high expectations.  The older students, in return, benefit from having younger students who question them, push them, and challenge them to defend positions they present.

Again though, I am left with the question of how many more students could be impacted if money were not an issue?   What if flexible classes could be designed based upon the interests and needs of the students rather than based upon inadequate funding that forces a district to limit the number of teachers it can hire?  What if every subject area had an additional teacher so that teachers like Luke didn’t have to give up planning time and lunchtime in order to make something like this work?  Because the real question that plagues me is what happens when teachers like Luke expend so much of their energy that they burn out early or physically cannot do it any longer?

Which leads to a third example of how Grand Valley teachers are doing a fantastic job with their students even with limited resources.  Mark Spellman teaches Robotic classes for students in grades 10-12.  The course is based upon a Lego/Carnegie –Mellon curriculum. Mark, the teacher, described this class as 100% student-based learning.  Students are presented with a real life prompt, then given a problem to solve. Currently , students are working on designing and programming a vehicle that can completely clear obstacles from a defined area without the students touching it. This is based upon a real life project where designers are trying to build machines that can mow golf courses during the night without anyone driving the machine.

We stopped in during a time when students were testing their designs which enabled us to question them during this process. As students watched their vehicles go through the course, they were able to analyze what was not working well and think about what changes they might need to make to correct the flaw. For example, one student’s vehicle made it ¾ of way through course before it went outside the boundaries, ending the trial run. When I asked her why that happened, she explained that in previous trial runs, the weight of the obstacle combined with the angle the blades were hitting them was causing the vehicle to turn a little to the side. Eventually, the vehicle would get off-course then hit the border at the wrong angle, causing it to stop. She made some corrections to the design and programming which kept the vehicle on course, but now instead of getting hung up on the border, it was driving straight over it.  Back to the drawing board. This is authentic learning – learning that is much deeper than regurgitating information on a test. This is analyzing a situation, determining the problem, applying solutions, and going back to the drawing board to make further adjustments. Students are not only learning content and problem-solving skills but also life lessons such as solutions are not always linear, changing one thing can cause a new problem somewhere else, not being defeated by failure but learning from things that go wrong and making adjustments to get something better.

One young lady I talked with told me that she only took this class to fill out her schedule and that she fully expected to not like it and to not do well in it because she is not really a science/math person. What she has found is that she loves this class and that she is actually good at it! Math and science take on a whole new appeal when applied to hands-on situations.

Mark’s role in this process is critical.  He is no longer the purveyor of information.  He is a coach, guide, facilitator, mentor.  He challenges the students and helps them work through their struggles.  How much easier it might be to tell the students how to complete the project, but Mark knows that the students learn more by going through the struggle.

The sad part is, the course is expensive.  This year, students had to be turned away.  This in spite of the fact, as students learned from the field trips they have taken to automated farms, that the future work force needs people who are equipped with the skills being described above.   Our students are going to need to know how to work collaboratively, solve problems,  analyze situations, make adjustments.  Creating, designing, and programming are going to be key to getting into good career fields.  Yet limited resources make it impossible to offer all students that type of learning experience.

I left Grand Valley inspired.  These three teachers were incredible examples of what happens not only in Grand Valley but across our state.  Yet I also left  with a feeling that this state could still do so much more for our students.  Our schools need to be able to provide enough teachers to meet the needs of students.  Our schools need to have makerspaces for students to learn through design.  Our schools need to be able to offer classes like Robotics to all students.  None of these resources should be restricted because of zip code.

Thank you to Grand Valley Education Association President Jason McConnell for scheduling our visit and lifting up the work of our teachers.  Thanks also to Kim Hein (Kindergarten) and Carrie Rowland (2nd Grade) for sharing your students with me.  I enjoyed talking with them about what they have been working on this year, and I enjoyed reading to them.  Carrie, your students obviously understand punctuation because they caught every funny line in Exclamation Mark by Amy Rosenthal.  Most of all, thank you Grand Valley teachers for being committed to giving the students at Grand Valley a quality education.  You make us all #OHPublicSchoolProud and deserve a #PublicSchoolShoutout.

Interested is hosting a visit in your classroom? Contact Jill Jones to schedule.




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Public School Proud…impressive teaching at Cory-Rawson


As the OFT tour of schools and worksites across the state continues, I continue to be impressed by the work our members do.  Tucked away in Hancock County is Cory-Rawson Local School District, a small district covering roughly 100 miles and with around 550 students.  In this small school are teachers who exemplify high quality teaching.

During the day, we were able to see examples of the EMPIRE program and visit classrooms at the Middle School and elementary levels.

Our day started with a stop in the classroom of the local union president Vicki Cheek.  We coincided our arrival with what we were told was Vicki’s planning period yet walked into a classroom with about eight students, including one working with Vicki at her desk.  Vicki explained to us that is was her planning period, but she typically uses that time to help students who are struggling catch up with their work.  Not surprising.  Teachers like Vicki often do that even though that means planning, grading, and all the other work that goes into being a good teacher will have to take place outside of the regular workday.

Vicki gave us an overview of the EMPIRE program.  Yes, EMPIRE stands for something that I did not capture entirely in my notes but that includes Intervention, Remediation, and Enrichment.  It is basically what it sounds like – a time during the day when students can either receive intervention for state testing, remediation in courses, or enrichment.  The Enrichment courses, which are ungraded, run on a four-week cycle.  While we were there, the options were Parliamentary Procedure, Forensics and Investigations, Fall Pinterest, Nature Study, Hair Braiding, and Crochet.  These mini courses, though not tied to any particular standard or curriculum, offer students an opportunity to tap into interests and skills that add to the quality of life now and beyond high school.  These type of classes engage students and give them a little break from the graded courses while also developing learning skills that can transfer to content courses.  We were not able to visit all of the sections but did see students engaged in a forensic lesson on fingerprinting with Mark Klausing, a card design lesson with Jacob Palte, and a hair braiding lesson with Becky Bucher.  Each one of these high school teachers was sharing their own talents and passions with the students in a relaxed, yet learning, environment.

After visiting these sections and spending some extra time in the Family and Consumer Science classroom admiring the work the students had done in designing different kitchen areas (see examples in pictures above), we visited Katie Burkett’s kindergarten classroom.  If you have been following my blogs and tweets, you know that I have the utmost respect for teachers at all levels but stand in awe of early elementary teachers who can not only control a whole classroom full of young students (think about how hard it is  – and how tiring- to have a few grandchildren visit you all at the same time) but also have multiple learning activities going on all at the same time!  When we stepped into this classroom, Katie was working with a group of students.  While she was teaching them, their were several students at a reading station, a few students finding words located throughout the classroom and marking them off their sheets (that means students walking around the classroom being focused on a learning activity!), students working in their reading notebooks, and other students working on other activities.  It was amazing.  I swear every student in that classroom was actively engaged in a learning activity and could explain to us exactly what they were doing.  This does not happen by accident.  This takes incredible classroom management skills by a teacher who understands children and knows what will keep them both engaged and learning at the same time.  After Katie finished with her small group, we brought all the children together so that I could read to them (always my favorite activity on a school visit).  Reading with them is fun, but the real treat is talking with them and asking them to share with me what they had learned.  Let me tell you, these students have learned a lot!  They have already been through all the letters and sounds of the alphabet.  They were telling me words that started with each letter.  They were sharing different counting skills.  They have obviously had a very good teacher working with them.  After having fun reading together, they gave me a “fireworks thank-you”- something I wish I had captured on video because it was so darn cute.

The teaching in that class would have been hard to match, but Emily Boerger and Jeanine Lewis did indeed match it with their team teaching in a fifth-grade language arts class.  Let me start by saying that team teaching can be very difficult.  Often times, it ends up with either one teacher leading the class and the other there as additional support with the students or with the teachers splitting days for lead teaching responsibilities.  I did not have the opportunity to ask these teachers how they determine who does what, but they were a true team.  I honestly could not tell you who was the classroom teacher and who was the intervention specialist.  They were masterful in the way they dovetailed  their work.  The students were working on personal narratives  – both reviewing what they are and then writing their own.  The teachers led the lesson with a personal narrative written by Patricia Polacco – an author whose books they had previously read in class.  The teachers took the elements of her narrative and wove in examples of how the author used parts of her own life story to write many of her books.  The students then shared memories with each other that they thought could potentially be turned into a personal narrative.  After this discussion, they pulled out their writing notebooks and began writing either a new personal narrative or continuing with a piece of writing they wanted to spend more time with.  It was a seemingly simple lesson to an observer who may never have taught, yet one that was rich in content and complex in terms of the amount of time needed to plan a lesson that breaks down a writing style into concepts that students can understand and apply.  Oh, and let me add, anytime I walk into a classroom that is lined with books as this one was (see picture above), I know I am in the presence of someone who wants children to learn to love to read.

I want to say Thank you to Cory-Rawson Education Association President Vicki Cheek for giving us the opportunity to see these incredible classrooms.  Thank you also for the teachers mentioned above who accepted us into their classrooms (in some cases uninvited).  You all are doing amazing work and are another reason why we should all be #OHPublicSchoolProud.

Look for upcoming blogposts about the visit to Grand Valley on Nov. 15 and to Crooksville on Nov. 29.

Interested in hosting a visit in your classroom?  Contact Jill Jones to schedule.

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Public School Proud…Georgetown visit a reminder that first we are human.

Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Denmark and meet with union leaders to discuss their education system.  Though much has stuck with me from that trip, the piece that stands out foremost in my mind is their underlying philosophy about teaching children – the notion that “first we are human.”

I was reminded of that core philosophy when I visited Georgetown Exempted Village Schools a few weeks ago.  Full disclosure, I must first confess that Georgetown is the town where I spent my entire life before becoming President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.  I graduated from Georgetown and taught at Georgetown, my husband graduated from Georgetown as well as taught and coached there, and my five children all graduated from Georgetown, so I have deep roots in the system.  Of course, anytime you have spent a lifetime somewhere, you accumulate both good and bad memories, so I tried to approach this visit with a fresh set of eyes.  After all, approximately half the staff has turned over since I left six years ago though several of those spots have been filled with students I once taught.

You can’t help but feel welcome as soon as you walk through the doors at either building.  In the high school, you will be greeted by Christy Lucas who has lived in Georgetown her entire life, probably already knows everyone who walks through the doors, and treats them all as if they are family.  In the elementary, you will be greeted by Karen Colwell, whose warm smile and genuine love for kids makes everyone feel immediately at home. The warmth these two show visitors to the schools is multiplied in the care and attention that they give the students who come to the office for multiple reasons – sometimes even just to get encouragement from one of these ladies.

The overall atmosphere in each school is also inviting.  In the elementary school, the walls along the hallways are covered with impressive art work done by the students – so impressive that I stopped in unannounced to compliment the art teacher Lynette Garrett, on the quality of work.  Her art room is a treasure trove of materials used to engage the students in art projects.  She clearly loves teaching art and has inspired her students.

The jr./sr high school has transformed its library – my former space – into a student learning/resource  center.  The space is designed not only for comfort, but also for learning with an area for classroom presentations and a large whiteboard covered with information about college visits, scholarship information, and other items to help students think about their futures.

In the elementary school, teachers are experimenting with flexible seating options, as evidenced in some of the pictures above.  The idea behind this is that optimal learning doesn’t necessarily take place when students are sitting in traditional desks in straight rows but rather when students are comfortable and can adjust according to their needs.  For example, many students are kinesthetic learners and learn not only learn through motion but can also concentrate better when they can fidget a little – kind of like an adult who doodles or clicks a pen.  Seats that look like bouncy balls can provide that movement without being a disruption to the rest of the class.  Also, flexible space within the classroom allows for students to work together in different types of groupings or even find isolated space for when they need to minimize distractions and focus alone.  I, admittedly, was a little skeptical of how these type of classrooms might function because I was imagining a classroom management nightmare, but after observing 6th-grade math teacher Molly Ellis in action, it was clear that not only did she have command of the room, but the students were actually deeply engaged in figuring out a complex word problem with fractions.  This type of atmosphere fits in well with the notion that first we are human – instead of treating everyone the same, the space accommodates the different comfort levels and learning styles of students.

Physical space is just one of the aspects of putting students first though.  The deeper aspect of this is how the teachers interact with the students.  Georgetown, like several schools I have visited, has an advisory period during each day that they use to build mentoring relationships with the students.  The elementary has advisory once a week, but the middle school and high school have it every day.  Each week, the advisory groups throughout the whole district focus on some type of personal characteristic or social responsibility.  For example, when I visited, they were discussing leadership.  Prior to that , they had discussed responsible use of social media.   The week starts with a video message from the superintendent about the topic of the week.  The advisory group then discusses the concept more in-depth with the teacher and ends the week by talking about examples they saw throughout the week.  During the week, the advisory teacher meets with each student individually to check on the progress being made in all classes but also to identify if the student is struggling in any way or just needs to talk about an issue.  This type of relationship is intended to provide each student with at least one caring adult who is checking in with him or her on a human level and showing an interest in that student as a person.  I had the opportunity to observe Heather Bertram’s advisory period which was rich with discussion about the many different ways to display leadership and the people they viewed as leaders within the school.  The conversation was very open and fluid which indicates to me that the students have trust in Heather and feel comfortable have open conversation in that advisory space.

After Heather’s advisory period, I also talked with her about the additional work she and another colleague, Krista Cahall, do with younger students in the system. They run a program called Girl Strong (check it out on Facebook or Twitter – @GEVSGirlStrong).  Originally started as a program to get girls in grades 3-6 physically active, the group has grown into a mentoring program where Heather and Krista work with students  in grades 9-12 to provide mentorship to the younger girls in the Girl Strong program.  In addition to staying physically active, the girls work on various projects and raise money for special causes.  More importantly though, this group, which includes over 90% of the girls in grades 3-6 has become a  place where girls can be a part of something bigger than themselves, build friendships, and have positive role models.  In addition, the older girls providing the mentorship are learning the value of giving their time to help others, and will tell you themselves, as I heard one senior express, that they think twice about their own decisions now because they know they have younger students looking up to them.


I started the afternoon by visiting Rachel Bishop’s kindergarten class.  I try to do this anytime I am back in Georgetown schools because Rachel has always amazed me a teacher.  Several of my own children had her as a teacher, so I have seen her skills from the parent perspective.  As someone who worked with her in the school though, I can attest to her ability to both command respect from the children while also nurturing them and helping them to develop confidence in their learning abilities.  Somehow, she could walk into the library after I would read a rousing rendition of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus that would get the students very rambunctious and somehow within three seconds have the students quiet and ready to move on their next activity.  And her students adore her.   During this visit, Rachel’s students demonstrated their counting abilities – all the way to 100- and also taught me everything they knew about the letter “Y.”

After finishing in Rachel’s room, I went to Molly Ellis’ sixth-grade math class.  They were studying fractions.  Earlier in the week, I had testified before the House Education Committee about Ohio’s Learning Standards and had been drilled by some legislators about “new math” (funny that people have been talking about new math for 50 years), and had specifically been asked why students are asked to demonstrate their math work through different models.  I wish those legislators could have observed Molly’s class with me.  The class watched a short video math problem in which a container of Kool-Aid was partially emptied into another container.  The class had to estimate how much was left and give answers in different fractions.  After spending some time discussing whether the estimates looked too high or too low, they moved to the next part of the problem.  In this part, they were told that the original amount of fluid was 1/2 liter and that 3/8 of a liter was left.  They then had to use models to figure out how much had been poured out. I thought I could do this problem in my head, as I’m sure did many of the students.  AS the students started drawing the problem out though, I could see, as could Molly, where many of us were making a mistake.  The models, as well as the manipulatives that Molly used, helped the students visualize the concepts they were working with.  Instead of just applying a math formula, they could see how the numbers interacted with each other and why an answer was right or wrong.  Molly was able to coach the students through their work instead of just showing them how to work a problem by writing it on the board and trying to explain the concept.  This style of teaching will help build a stronger foundation for much higher level math down the road because students are actually developing an understanding of deeper concepts rather than just memorizing math facts.

I wish, as I wish every time I end a day at a school, that I had had more time to see more classes.  I know that what I saw while visiting Georgetown was just the tip of the iceberg of all that is happening, but that tip was impressive.  High-quality teaching combined with treating the students with individual care and attention is laying a foundation for future success.

Georgetown teachers, thank you for understanding that while academic achievement is important, caring about kids and teaching them how to interact with each other, care about each other, and work with each other is the underlying structure that allows for that success to happen.

Though this visit was back on Nov. 3, it is now the day before Thanksgiving. (yes – I am way behind on my blogs.  I have done two visits since this which I will be writing about over the course of the next few days.)  In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to say “Thank you” to some special people I saw while in Georgetown but did not get to spend much time with:

John Copas – thank you for believing in my ability to move on to this job even when I had given up on myself

Chad McKibben – one of my enduring memories is the night my step-father passed away. I was at a basketball game at the school when I found out and rushed immediately to the hospital.  I don’t know how you found out so quickly, but when I got out of my car at the hospital, you were pulling up behind me to check on me.  Thank you!

Deanne Cooper – I miss seeing you and talking with you.  Thank you for always being a good friend.

Tuesday Nichols – I always admired not only your great teaching but also your kind spirit.  Thank you for being a positive influence.

Heidi Hyde – Thank you for always making me laugh and for always stopping in to see how you and your students could help me.

Tanja Haughaboo – Whenever I ask my children to list best teachers, you are always on that list.  Thank you for making school challenging yet interesting for my children.

Donna DeVries – Even before you became a teacher, your presence in the school had a strong impact on my children.  Thank you.

Carrie Hudson – I do not know anyone who works as hard as you but you are still always smiling.  Thank you for being a role model for me.

Karen Colwell – It would take a book to thank you for all the ways you have touched my life and the lives of my children- plus I’d probably have to share some embarrassing stories.  Thank you!  Love You!

Rachel Bishop – Most dependable person I have ever met in my life.  Thank you for everything you have ever done for me.  Really miss you.

Donna Day – Such a beautiful spirit.  Thank you for your gentleness and kindness.

GiGi Grant – I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to a lot of places, but no trip will ever mean as much to me as the one you let me take with you.  Thank you for your friendship and for continuing to check up on me periodically even now.

Christy Lucas – Not enough words.  You have been such a positive influence on my whole family.  Thanks for always caring.

Cary Gray – I always enjoy seeing you.  Thanks for always taking an interest in my family and for being someone my children continue to want to stay in contact with.

Holly Woodruff – Wish I could have actually talked with you while I was in Georgetown.  Thank you for being that teacher who makes students think.  And thank you for all the investment you have made in Georgetown schools.  Every time I think of you, I smile.

Brent Caldwell – Why didn’t I see you?  You are another teacher my children list as a favorite.  Thank you for being a positive male role model.

Faith Ecker – I didn’t see you either.  Thank you for your friendship.

Matt Cameron – You are such a great guy.  Wish I could have talked with you while there. Thank you for stepping in for me after I left, and thank you for all the laughs over the years.

Dee Dee Faust – I didn’t get to see you either.  Thank you for all you have done through the years at Georgetown and for always being a friendly person to talk to.

Rachael Osman – You are an amazing leader and teacher!  Just this week, I was bragging about you to someone in Columbus.  Thank you for taking the union work at Georgetown to  new levels.  You impress me!

Gar Seigla – If you made it all the way to the bottom of this blog, then you truly are a good friend!   I’m glad that there was still a door across the hall from you when I was at Georgetown.  Having you there to listen to me vent on bad days or to share a laugh with on good days was one of the best parts of being at Georgetown.   Thank you for always being a good friend (and for rescuing me that day when I was screaming for help!).  I truly miss you!

Tony Becraft – I know we lost you years ago, but there is no way I can step into that school ( or even drive into the town) without thinking about you.  You were Georgetown schools to literally hundreds (thousands?) of students.  You always took the time to really get to know your students and to treat them as important individuals.  You truly cared, and your students felt that.  Thank you for all the laughs, all the encouragement, all the friendship you gave me in the too short time that I knew you.

I apologize for those I am sure that I have missed. So many of you have had a positive impact on my life.  Thank you all and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Interested in having OFT visit your classroom?  Contact Jill Jones to schedule a visit.






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Public School Proud… social interactions a key part of learning at New Knoxville


On Thursday,  Oct. 26, I had the opportunity to visit New Knoxville Schools.  What a fun day!  As you can tell from the pictures, Thursday was costume day.  This just added a special touch to all the learning that was happening.

New Knoxville is a small school ( a little over 400 students) in Auglaize County.  Coming from a small town myself, I loved the feeling of being back in a school where a student can  walk through the halls and be known by almost every teacher in the building because that teacher has either taught him, or his brother, sister, mother, father, and so on.  Knowing each other, working with each other, supporting each other seemed to be the culture of the school that naturally flowed throughout all the instruction that I saw.

I started the day in Linda Wolf’s 4th-grade classroom where students were getting ready for the school wide Read-Together.  After morning announcements, all the students in the school went to the gym where younger students were paired with older students to share a favorite  book.  This opportunity was not only exciting for the younger students but was also a way for the older students to be a positive example to those students following in their footsteps.

After the reading time, we went back to the 4th-grade classroom to watch the students presenting the poems they had memorized.  I was quite delighted to see that students not only recited the poems, but did so theatrically with lots of expressions and emotion.  The students then paired off  to do a Flipgrid video of their book club book.  Since the students paired with someone who had not read the same book, this gave them an opportunity to promote a different book to a classmate while also creating  video that the teachers and other students could also watch later.

I next visited Kim Crow’s 7th-grade classroom where students were beginning a brand-new STEM class (they affectionately referred to themselves as the guinea pigs).  This 9-weeks class was beginning the quarter by breaking down “design theory” so that they can later apply that to working with others in the class to solve problems by designing solutions.  One of their first projects is going to be working within a team to design a structure with only cardboard and tape that would hold the weight of a kindergartner.  And since they have kindergartners in the same building, they can actually test their designs out on site.  What a fun way not only for older students to creatively solve problems but also for younger students to get excited about learning by being a part of  what older students are doing.

The next stop was in Kelly Mele’s 1st-grade classroom.  First-grade is one of my favorite grades because of the enthusiasm of children at that age.  At the same time, I am always in awe of teachers who can get a classroom of students engaged in several different learning opportunities all at the same time.  It is astounding to me how much is going on in one of these classrooms at any given point in time.  While there, we watched a group of students go through their calendar time.  If you have never observed this happening in a first grade classroom, you should try to watch sometime.  Led by a student, the children went through days of the week, months of the year, letters of the alphabet, math problems using calendar dates, and so much more.  Again, mind-boggling how much is actually happening.

After doing their calendar session the students practiced counting to 100 by 2’s by singing and dancing along with a video.  This fun activity allowed them to get up and move around a little bit while also practicing a math concept that had been challenging for several of the students.

Before leaving, I spent some time talking with Jenny Heitkamp, the guidance counselor, about how New Knoxville is connecting students with career options.  New Knoxville students have several opportunities to explore career options.  In the 8th-grade, students make their first trip to Tri-Star, the local Career Tech Center.  As 9th-graders, they can be part of the Career Academy which works with the local Chamber of Commerce to host various career-related sessions throughout the year.  The Business Tech class, taught by Karla Eilerman, focuses on the skills students need to be successful in the workplace. Field trips to places such as the Honda plant and local medical facilities also provide exposure to various career options.

As juniors and seniors, students can attend a Talent Connection Forum hosted by the Auglaize-Mercer Business Education Alliance.  Prior to attending, students fill out a career interest survey.  Organizers use this survey to connect students to the area business people who participate in the forum.  Students get the opportunity to talk with people in the career field to discover if this is really a career option they want to pursue or not.  About 85% – 90% of students participate.

Thank you to New Knoxville Education Association President Linda Wolf for arranging his visit for us.  This visit reinforced that learning is about so much more than memorizing content.  Learning is about interacting with others, sharing knowledge, encouraging and supporting each other, designing and problem-solving together, singing and dancing to help embed knowledge, connecting with community for discovering career passions.  Learning is a social activity.  Thank you, New Knoxville, for building up this social component.

Next stop…Georgetown Exempted Village Schools.  Interested in having us visit your school to see the positive impact you are having on students?  Click here to contact Jill Jones.




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Public School Proud… Technology integration at Genoa highlights first stop on school visit tour

There is a bounty of wonderfully awe inspiring work being done in schools and classrooms across Ohio. I spent much of August and September travelling around the state to meet with the presidents of our OFT locals. At every visit, I was inspired not only by the union work these leaders were doing for our locals and members, but also by the stories they told me about the engaging work of our members in classrooms.

Because my visits took place outside of school hours, I did not get the chance to actually meet the teachers or see them in action. Their stories though, are the stories that need to be told – stories of what is really happening in our classrooms on a daily basis and stories about the roles our members play. Whether they are teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries, social workers, bus drivers, school nurses or custodians, our members play important roles in ensuring that our children feel nurtured, supported and prepared for the future. To help make these stories known, OFT has made a commitment to be in as many classrooms and worksites as possible this year to see the great work our members do and celebrate it.

We started these classroom visits in Genoa Area Local Schools. When I met with Holly Kimpon, president of the Genoa Area Education Association, this summer, she told me about all the technology integration happening at Genoa. In fact, that August day, Genoa was actually hosting a technology summit for area schools. Her enthusiasm about how teachers are incorporating technology into daily instruction compelled me to go back as soon as possible to get a closer look at how their program benefits students.

Anyone would have been impressed by our member Christine Danhoff, who serves as the district’s technology integrationist. Yes, a technology integrationist! In this day and age, many schools have technology coordinators, IT people, roles that are highly important in making sure the right technology is in place and working properly. But a technology integrationist? This critical role is one that often gets overlooked by schools. Christine’s role is to help teachers find ways to incorporate the technology into their everyday instruction, and WOW, she is good at it! She bubbles over with excitement talking about the different tools that are available, the way teachers use the technology, and student projects. We could have talked for hours, but Christine wanted us to see how the technology was being used. To give us a broad scope, Christine took us to a kindergarten classroom, a high school Spanish class, a middle school language arts class, and a high school emerging technologies class.

Though the integration of technology looked different in each classroom, three commonalities became obvious:

  • technology helped with differentiation of instruction
  • using the technology created more instructional time
  • the technology engaged the students in the learning process

 Differentiation of instruction

Lori Traver’s middle school language arts students were working on their “Book of Knowledge” assignment using an online program with access to current news stories. They read the stories, keep track of facts in their Book of Knowledge, then record a summary of what they read on a program called Flipgrid. What the students do not realize, Lori explained, is that she can assign them stories based on their reading level. Using this online program and another called Common Lit., she can make sure all students are being taught the standards and being assessed on the standards but at their own reading levels. It’s done in a way that it is not obvious that some students struggle with reading more than others. All students can participate, and all students can share their knowledge with the rest of the class.

Holly Szepiela is also able to use the technology to differentiate instruction in her Spanish class. Using an online textbook and online programming, students can choose to learn through flashcards, reading in context, playing games or other modes. This flexibility engages students in their learning by empowering them with options.

 More Instructional Time

Lori Traver and Holly Szepiela both also talked about how programs like Flipgrid help create more instructional time by reducing the amount of class time spent on assessing student progress. Flipgrid allows students to create a one-and-a half minute video. It gathers videos from all students in a grid that is accessible to the teacher and all students. Before having Flipgrid, Holly said she would spend two days at a time doing speaking assessments in class. Now all students can record themselves on their own time instead of doing this assignment during class.

With using Flipgrid, Lori’s students still experience sharing knowledge out loud, but again because students can all record when they are ready (everyone has access to a Google Chromebook), she does not have to spend a whole class period having students report out. This saved time allows for more classroom instruction and interaction.

 Engagement in learning process

Jenna Britt’s kindergarten students enjoyed showing us how they use their Google Chromebooks. These students have access to a site that gives them multiple options for practicing numbers, letters and other kindergarten concepts all presented in fun interaction. The students have so much fun playing theses games, they don’t realize they are practicing skills and learning new concepts.

Lori Traver shared with us how she uses technology to bring stories to life. Each year her students read a wonderful story set in a rice field in Vietnam about an anaconda, but some students struggle with imagining the setting. Using technology, she has students use their computers to find Vietnam on a map and locate pictures of rice fields and anacondas. After seeing these images on a computer and getting some background information, the story took on a whole new meaning for students, and they could discuss it with enthusiasm.

Students in Matt Hirt’s Emerging Technologies class get to experience the self-confidence that comes from thinking up an idea, making a plan for developing it, then actually creating a final project. With the help of tools such as 3D printers and carving machines, these students create carving boards, house signs, posters and more products than I can even think to name. While creating these items, students are learning and practicing concepts such as proportions and scale. The added bonus is the self-satisfaction of seeing an idea through from conception to finished product.

We could have easily spent a week in Genoa seeing all the different ways technology is being integrated into the curriculum. Even during our brief visit, we saw way more ideas than can be covered in an article like this. We saw breakout boxes (think escape room, except that students are competing by using clues to unlock boxes instead of escaping from a room), review competitions using smart boards, and Makers Spaces where students can use their creativity to turn materials into items. I know that we definitely want to return someday to see the Makers Space fair in the spring and some of the crafts that the emerging technologies students create for an auction.

I want to send a huge “Thank you” to Christine Danhoff, union President Holly Kimpon, all the teachers who opened their classrooms to us, and the Genoa administration for supporting the integration of technology in the classroom. What you showed us, beyond the concepts listed above, is that technology is a tool that, when put into the hands of a great teacher, makes the learning experience even more powerful. The way you use technology does not isolate students from learning, rather it creates interaction among students, allows them to share their work, help each other with concepts, and advance with each other at a pace that is both comfortable and challenging. As teachers, you use the technology to meet each student’s needs and to expand the possibilities for how each student can learn. Thank you, teachers, for being learners yourselves, for pushing yourselves to try new concepts, and for continually looking for new ways to make learning meaningful to your students.

Next up – New Knoxville. Can’t wait to see the teaching and learning happening in our New Knoxville classrooms.

Want to share your classroom with us?  Please contact our Coordinator of Field Services Jill Jones to schedule a time.


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