Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Since Then...

Can it really be almost two years since I last blogged on this site?  How did that much time pass by?

Since then...
I have grown as a "Nina" - watching our grandson grow to be almost 4, adding another grandson in August, and expecting another in September.

Since then...
I have grown as a "Survivor" as we faced cancer - my husband and I - and won.

Since then...
I have grown as a "Warrior" - tackling post-partum depression and melanoma with our daughter.

Since then...
I have grown as a "World Explorer" as our son and daughter-in-law made Australia their home and our youngest began work for a company in Ireland. 

Since then...
I have grown as a "Learner" - blogging for the Iowa Department of Education, moving into the prospectus stage with a PhD in Education, presenting at various conferences, and helping to begin a movement in our district towards being trauma informed.

Since then...
I have grown as a "Visionary" in knowing there is more to life outside the world of education -  more to a world beyond standards and learning targets, a world beyond assessments and planning - two years older but wiser as I move towards retirement in June. 

There are adventures ahead but this time in areas beyond a classroom or a conference table, adventures beyond the familiar and steady world of curriculum -  I move towards adventures untaught, unthought, and unsought -

Since then...
I have grown as a "Dreamer..."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

#ServeHAITI Education - "Chita pa bay" - One must work to receive!

"Chita pa bay." 
Proverb: "Sitting doesn't yield - one must work to receive." 

The lodging in Port-au-Prince was our first stop in a week long journey.  Arriving at Matthew 25 was like coming home again - seeing Michelle Pitelli (HS Social Worker from North Carolina), a friend from last year's service work.  We connected with Brittany Moore ('16 grad from IA), Alexandria Stanford ('16 grad from NC), and Allison Vogt (NC educator, nurse, and certified doula).  We met and immediately developed a friendship, all with the same heart to serve the Haitian people.  "Chita pa bay" - "one must work to receive."  And there is much to accomplish through ServeHAITI.

Saturday dawned and we immediately noticed the first of many differences Kim Snyder, yearlong volutneer with ServeHAITI, had made.  What had been known as Haitian time for the past few years was now real  time.  The Haitian time we had grown to know was two hours past the time set; real time was on time.  Kim began a yearlong volunteer post with ServeHAITI in March.  She came from managing the Ritz-Carlton in Dubai in the United Arab Emirate to managing a remote health clinic in the mountains of Grand-Bois, Haiti.  Quite a change in location but more rewarding than one can imagine.  Kim's heart to serve is making a difference in Grand-Bois one day at a time.

The 55 mile journey from Port-au-Prince to Grand-Bois was the usual four hour trip up a rugged mountain road with deep ruts, large rocks, and breath-taking landscape.  Signs of politics were everywhere with notices for whom to vote spray-painted on trees.  With few newspapers, media becomes messages tagged on buildings and walls throughout the countryside.  We breathed a sigh as the medical clinic came into view. Haitian proverb - "Chemen long pa touye ou." "The long road doesn't kill you. Perseverance is good.  We saw perseverance all along the way - those on donkeys loaded with water jugs and coffee beans, all ages on foot making their way rock by rock up the mountainside after selling their products along roadside stands.  Trucks piled high with people and charcoal, thankful for a bumpy ride with a friendly crowd.  "Chemen long pa touye ou." Perseverance is good.

We are welcomed by familiar faces - Abraham (interpreter and security guard), Boulè (driver and security guard), and Fednor (driver and maintenance manager).  Welcomed by a new face - David Baptiste (interpreter) and a loyal face - Jean-Louis (manager of the medical clinic).  We were treated to servings of beans & rice, fried plantains, and tasty pork.  Dusty suitcases were lined up in the conference room and baby formula along with medicine and baby packets unpacked - packets lovingly prepared by CNA classes in NC. 

Maciene and David gave a presentation to us as they shared the Gift of Water buckets and explained how they are changing Grand-Bois with hundreds saved from the diseases associated with drinking tainted water.  A donation of $50 provides the buckets along with visits from water technicians who test the quality of the water every week.  Technicians are trained by Maciene.  There are nearly 11, 000 families in the Grand-Bois area with around 300 with Gift of Water buckets. Gift of Water is one ServeHAITI service that employs Haitians helping Haitians.

Reflections are shared on the porch as we are reminded that the steps we take are small but mighty.  We cannot solve all the difficulties of the Grand-Bois area but we can make changes through a heart to serve with hands and feet to move forward.  "Chen gen kat pat; se yon sel chement li fe."  The dog has four paws but it takes only one path.  "One thing at a time."  Tomorrow will hold more treasured memories!

#ServeHAITI Education - The road is hard, the sun is hot, get going...

There comes a time when you can't help but look back and smile as you realize you were part of something big.  Something bigger than you or me.  Something that is life-changing. Something that you are assured has an impact that reaches beyond a single person.  Something you know without a doubt was guided by a hand much bigger than your own.  Our trip with ServeHAITI in June was one such time.

Several American teachers have been involved in teacher training in a mountainous area outside of Port-au-Prince known as Grand-Bois.  In 2013, ServeHAITI partnered with a group of 20 schools who sent a teacher, one per week for three weeks.  This partnership was for a three year commitment.  My husband Brian and I began in 2014 to be part of this partnership, working with two wonderful Iowa educators, Mary Froeschle and Janet Green, to develop lesson plans to be used with the Haitian teachers.  The focus was on planning lessons that included student involvement and collaboration along with strategies that would encourage students to be actively involved with the learning.  Year one (2013) was an exploration of teacher manuals provided by ServeHAITI for each school.  With the manuals written in Haitian Creole, it was difficult for American educators to understand how to develop lessons so the focus became providing the lesson plan framework and instructional strategies to engage learning.  Year two (2014) picture books  were introduced - providing guidance on how to share a picture book with a class and how to write lesson plans related to fiction.  Lessons were also provided on math using a hundreds chart as well as incorporating music and art.  Every school received a set of picture books and hundreds charts.  Year three (2015) we moved to non-fiction and created lessons on natural disasters, geography, and math using manipulatives.  We emphasized using text clues to comprehend information and taught two-column note taking for recording concepts.  Each school received math manipulatives, science books, and blow-up globes.  Once year three was concluded it was time to partner with 15 new schools in 2016.

Key players with ServeHAITI Liz McDermott, Cindy Broders, and Gary Froeschle were open to suggestions on how to change the education program for the Haitian teachers.  ServeHAITI has a strong focus on the "a hand up and not a hand out."  They seek ways to empower Haitians to take responsibility in solving their own problems.  This organization provides the example and resources but the Haitians of the Grand-Bois area must provide sweat equity to move forward.  Through discussion it was decided in order to empower the Haitian teachers the top five strongest teachers from the previous trainings would be selected.  They would attend a training, be involved in writing lesson plans, and then the following three weeks provide the training to the Haitian teachers from 15 schools, receiving payment for the training they provided over the three weeks.

It was my honor to be there this year for the original training.  Sometimes you enter something with just a wish and a prayer but with a vision for how something can be done.  Entering the training with manuals I could not read and only a vision of empowering and collaborating with Haitian teacher leaders, our journey began...

Friday, June 24, 2016

Discovering Self-Expression by Kate Engelkes

As a believer in the power of text, I seek to find ways to make the written word come alive for students.  My daughter Kate is a high school English teacher who believes strongly in the ability of the written word to encourage teens to deepen their self-expression.  She authored the following article which answers the question - Why poetry?   It deserves a read by those who seek to take ELA instruction to a deeper level.  

"We sit at home on our computers measuring self-worth
by numbers of
followers and likes
Ignoring those who actually love us
It seems we'd rather write
An angry post than talk to someone who might acutally hug us"
(Prince Es, "Can We Autocorrect Humanity?")

Teenagers spend so much time trying to express themselves to the public in an effort to impress and
gain followers and likes—a shell of true self-expression.  I watch from the sidelines as my students carefully craft a caption for a photo to mirror some pop culture reference. A caption designed to reveal just how “with it” that student is.

As adults, we often judge this disconnect from humanity. We think if only teenagers would just spend time with others instead of always being on their phones. In my class, I want to help students communicate and share their thoughts and ideas with the world. Poetry offers the perfect medium for self-expression, but mentioning poetry to the average group of high school students will be met with the most earth-shattering chorus of groans. At least, that was my experience when I mentioned to my juniors we would be spending time reading poetry.

I made it a personal goal to help students, if not love poetry, at least develop an appreciation of poetry as a way to express shared emotions. But with so much hatred stacked up against poetry, what could I do? I decided to start simple and see how we could use already existing poetry to start conversations. This meant rather than focus on classics and pieces I’ve learned to love, students had to break into poetry in language they understood. Each class, I started with a modern poem. I read the poem aloud to students, and then I asked, “So what do you think?” Then, I shut my mouth. So much good can happen in our classes if we just get out of the way of our students.

Each day, we discussed poems by contemporary poets such as Billy Collins and Naomi ShihabNye. I found poems written by teens and twenty-somethings. We discussed love, relationships, death, and education. We read rhyming poems, free verse, and even some language poetry (or Lang Po from the likes of Ron Padgett) to really freak them out. If a poem didn’t incite conversation, we moved on with our lesson for the day—I followed the students’ lead and only kept going for as long as they wanted to discuss the poem. This made poetry less threatening and turned the typical conversation of poetic devices and making meaning (the things that made them hate poetry) into meaningful conversations about what they believe or what they value in life. This moment of each class, by far, was the most powerful lesson of each day. It didn’t matter what we did after this point; conversation came naturally, and we delved into deep and meaningful discussion each day.

One conversation stuck with me. To connect students with poetry, I shared a spoken word piece I knew was popular on Facebook. Prince Ea is a prominent YouTube spoken word artist, and he has a particularly powerful piece titled, “Can we Autocorrect Humanity?” The poem explores the need for humans to put down cell phones, laptops, and iPads and connect face-to-face. What better audience for this message than a classroom of teenagers? In one part of the poem, he states:

"Take control or be controlled, Make a decision
No longer do I want to spoil a precious moment by recording it with a phone
I'm just gonna keep them"

My fifth period connected deeply to the sentiments in this poem. One girl spoke up and said, “This is totally right. When I’m with my friends, I want to be talking with them and interacting with them. Right now, we just are on our phones together.” We talked about the need for human connection, and how we all want to experience love and attention.

Students voiced concerns about families who didn’t eat dinner together. One girl said, “I feel so bad for the next generation. They get phones so young; they’ll never have a childhood.” They talked about the sadness of having to say goodbye to friends when they go off to college. They discussed the desire to sit and just spend time with friends and family rather than mindlessly scrolling through Vine after Vine.

But they also talked about the power of social media. How they feel more connected to different ideas and cultures than older generations.

“Adults think we are only on our phones or laptops all of the time and don’t care about anything, but that’s not true at all. We’re connecting with people in other ways they may not understand.”

“Exactly, but there are some times we don’t want to be on our devices. We still
want to spend time with people.”

To hear these students wrestling with the complexity of human connection and their voiced desires to put down phones and have that face-to-face contact was humbling and awe-inspiring.  As adults, we often underestimate teenagers or dismiss them because they’re always “plugged in” to their devices, but as my students corrected me, this isn’t something they want to do 100% of the time. We also need to understand that their way of connecting with the world looks different from what we understand, but that doesn’t mean it’s less valuable.

Teenagers care about this world. They care about connecting and understanding the human experience as much as everyone else. The apathy adults perceive from teens is so often a front. We just need to see past their facades to the care and desires underneath and help them discover methods of positive self-expression, such as poetry, and allow them to adapt those methods to ever changing social mediums.

Friday, June 10, 2016

June 10, 2016: Debodè - OVERFLOW

Debodè - overflow...our greeter Abby at the Matthew 25 House in Port-au-Prince bears this word tattooed on her shoulder.  Debodè - let your love and grace overflow.  A new word that aptly fits our trips to Haiti.  It is a two-way street - the gracious people we meet here in Haiti exemplify debodè even in the face of poverty and unemployment.  We as visitors extend to others - we debodè with care and desire to empower them towards a life that is different through education and health care.

Today we arrived in Port-au-Prince around 6:00 PM to the familiar smells, noises, and sights.  A trench of water running through the street serving as a bathing and laundering area.  Houses upon houses with little electricity and few if any beds.  Baskets and boiling pots of oil manned by Haitians attempting to make a sale on the crowded streets.

No traffic lights or direction as every imaginable vehicle makes its way in harried way towards their destination.
Back to a land of debodè - overflowing with need - as we share a limited amount of time with the resilient people of Haiti.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Real Inspiration

It is amazing how time flies!  It seems like just a few weeks ago we were preparing for the 2015-16 school year and now it is half-way over.  Last year at this time I was busy traveling on a variety of roads to districts across Iowa serving as an ambassador of education along with gathering ideas for MCSD.  This year I have entered a full-time position as Director of Professional Growth & Student Learning.  It has been a time of  learning how to approach the process of moving instruction forward in our district.  I may now be housed at Central Office, but my heart remains with teachers and students in the classroom.  I entered the administration field believing I could have an impact on teachers and therefore students through a position that focused on curriculum and instruction.  As I listened to the Briggs Elementary students sing during their holiday program, I could not help but come to the realization that the further you move from the classroom, the less significant impact you actually have on the world.  There is nothing as meaningful as developing relationships with students, guiding them to find their talents, moving them to hone their skills, and providing them a new way of looking at their world.  I am still striving to impact instruction by working with teachers in the buildings across our district, but my heart will always be filled with strong memories of  students.  As a teacher, I always worked at sharing my enthusiasm for learning and was driven by a desire to inspire, but I now realize the real learning was by me and the inspiration I received was through others shining with the light of learning in their eyes.  May we all know the value of what we do for one another!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

POINTS of PRIDE: Central Community School District in Elkader

Superintendent Nick Trencamp
Superintendent Trencamp shared about the town of Elkader.  For
a small Iowa town, Elkader is busy and thriving.  Two local businesses are hiring - CAT and Mobile Track Solutions.  The school district has an early out every Friday and business has increased on Fridays for the downtown businesses.  The town is named after Abd el-Kader, an Algerian freedom fighter who lived from 1808-1883.  Elkader is a sister city to a city in Algeria.  Abd el-Kader was a unique leader who became known for his release of captured Christians.  He was unusually well-studied and loved horses.  In the 1880s his exploits were published in the United States.  Investors from New York came here to build a wheat mill and named the town.  There is much admiration for Abd el-Kader, and the ambassador from Algeria and some of his family have visited Elkader.  Last spring Algerian diplomats paid Elkader a visit.  Sometimes the best stories are found in small towns!

District Demographics:
Enrollment - 450
Free & Reduced Lunch - 25%
Elementary school - organized in multi-age groups - K-1, 2-3, and 4-5 with five sections of each

Initiatives at Central Elkader include a focus on Iowa Core, implementation of Professional Learning
Communities, and establishment of the Multi-tiered Systems of Support at the elementary level.  Mr. Trencamp is a firm believer in Blended Learning where you don't have to have four walls to share classrooms; this encourages collaboration between districts.  Currently in Iowa there are 338 school districts of which 143 have 600 students or less.  These school have high transportation costs due to geography, and collaboration and sharing are key for success.  These districts also face the challenge of bringing in concurrent classes.  One solution for Elkader is to train retireds to get the training to offer the classes. 

Another example of problem-solving is in the area of their school calendar.  According to their data from MAPs assessments, there was a 50% loss of skills overs the summer break.  Because of this, they built in breaks throughout the school year to lessen the summer gap.  Elkader has built in breaks after each quarter with an early out every Friday.  With built in snow days each quarter, they do not have to tack on snow days at the end of the year.

This year they are transitioning to personalized professional development where teachers choose what they want to learn, but then they must participate in a peer review component: share at a conference, blog about their learning, or create a TED talk.  They used Oelwein as their example with the focus:  creating teachers who design a plan for their growth.  According to Mr. Trencamp, a district builds capacity by building experts in a building. 

In the area of instruction, teachers have been examining standards-based grading.  They have spent time analyzing each standard in the Iowa Core and have developed a list of priority standards.  In order to monitor learning, every teacher does a pre and post assessment for each unit.  The data is tracked using Google Docs, and data-based decisions can then be made to move students forward in their achievement.

Central Community School District in Elkader may be small but it is mighty as it seeks best practices for continuous improvement in the classroom, in their staff, and in their community.