Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Second Trimester Progress Reports - Reminder

As we prepare for 2nd Trimester Progress Reports, it may be a good idea to refresh your mind of the BIG IDEAS that we need to remember as we implement the Iowa Core and the reflection that may have on your child's progress report. Please feel free to view the video that was put together this last fall and shared with each of you prior to the first trimester reporting period. 

It has been proven by our data, that students are making significant progress, however, many are not yet mastering our essential skills.  Our goal IS, however to have them at Mastery (1) at the conclusion of the school year!  Any questions, please feel free to contact me directly at Denver Elementary! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Professional Development at Denver Elementary

As we implement the Iowa Core Curriculum with fidelity in our classrooms, it is easy to get caught up in the daily grind and attention to each individual standard as a “single tree”, rather than admiring the “entire forest”.  At our February 14th professional development, we took a step back, a glance at our curriculum from 10,000 feet if you will, to focus on an article written by Lauren Davis, which allowed us to look at the shifts that have occurred in our instruction.  The article is entitled, “5 Things Every Teacher Should be Doing to Meet the Common Core State Standards”.  

Using the article as the foundation for our activity, we were allowed an opportunity to celebrate in most cases, but to also reflect on our teaching practices as a whole.   We provided the task to small groups of teachers to become an “expert” on one of the five shifts.  In their collaborative groups and by way of a jigsaw activity, they were to determine the meaning of their shift with the intention of being able to share out to the entire group, but they were also asked to create an argument, as to why their shift was the most important.  We really had fun with the activity, but the real power was in the affirmation that occurred through rich conversation, as well as teachers challenging one another’s thinking as to how we could become stronger within each of these areas.  As we compiled a list of ways in which we are meeting the shifts, we felt great about our commitment to the Iowa Core and our implementation, which is occurring with strong fidelity.

To give you some further insight, the shifts described in the article are as follows:

1.     Lead High-Level, Text-Based Discussions
2.     Focus on Process, Not Just Content
3.     Create Assignment for Real Audiences and with Real Purpose
4.     Teach Argument, Not Persuasion
5.     Increase Text Complexity

Again, affirmation was high, however we learned that shift number 3, in particular deserves further attention moving forward.  Our new curriculum materials are not only fully aligned to the core and support rigorous learning at the highest levels, but again, it is important for us to look at the forest as a whole, and make sure that we are empowering real and purposeful learning through activities that include real audiences, rather than spending too much time admiring the “single trees”.  

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for supporting us during our professional learning days.  I realize that the early dismissal days and the full Fridays are not always easy for families, however, research suggests that of all school related factors that improve student achievement, teacher’s matter most.  It is our administrative team’s responsibility to ensure that our teachers are current with the best practices and most aligned resources to empower learning for every child, every day.  This only happens through ongoing and high quality professional development, and again, I thank you for your enduring support!

All My Best,

Kim Tierney

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Walked a Mile

The American Proverb, “Don’t judge a man, until you’ve walked a mile in his boots,” proved very powerful for me this past week.  I wasn’t judging anyone of course, however, I was asking a lot of my teachers regarding the implementation of our new Reading and Language Arts curriculum.  I was asking for “implementation with fidelity” without being able to fully empathize with their perspectives.  I found that I truly wasn’t providing the instructional leadership that I desire as a principal.   I found that many of the challenges that I was hearing were consistent across each grade level.  I decided that the limits that I was unintentionally placing on myself as an instructional leader were going to be days of the past.  I encouraged (and begged), a fifth grade teacher to allow me to fully plan and implement a weeks worth of our new English and Language Arts curriculum materials.  I will forever be grateful to this teacher for her willingness to allow me to take on this challenge.  It is not an easy thing, to hand your classroom over to someone else.  I made sure that she understood that this was for me, and that I was not a “model” of implementation.   My goal was to fully immerse myself in the new materials so that I could fully empathize with time constraints and full implementation.  I was excited and nervous, but anticipated the experience ahead!

After my first Friday of planning from 5:00 PM to 10:30 PM, I immediately realized, that this was going to be a powerful week!  To say that I benefited from this experience would be an incredible understatement!  This was the most powerful learning I have ever personally endured.  Those 20 students taught me more this week, than I could have learned in a month’s worth of formal professional development!  Again, my first night of planning included totally immersing myself into the curriculum; I had to ultimately familiarize myself with ALL portions of what this curriculum had to offer.  It took a lot of time and I of course, could have implanted without spending that amount of time, but again, I had to begin with my end goal in mind. 

That Friday, was not the end of my planning, I planned up to one hour each night for the next day’s instruction.  *My first point of personal learning – good teaching requires great planning, reflection and follow-up!  I’ve known this and preach this often, but after wearing my principal hat for the past six years – this perspective really came to life for me again.  Often, it is this portion of a teacher’s career, the planning, checking papers and essays, as well as catching students up that are absent throughout the week, that is consistently overlooked by stakeholders.  Good teaching requires great planning, reflection and follow-up – which consumes a lot of time.

Throughout the week, I also realized just how much I miss the classroom!  Teaching is incredibly hard work, but is also one of the most rewarding professions that I could ever imagine!  Our learning targets in the classroom during the week included sequencing a biography and writing a summary of the several passages that we read.  Observing the student work was worth the price of gold to me!  I saw growth and implementation of the skills that I was hoping students would gain throughout the week, and to me, this was priceless!  I loved to see the expression on a student’s face, when they finally “got it”.

The second point of personal learning for me, was that our new curriculum is exactly what I had been hearing it was, from the teachers perspective.  Our curriculum materials contain too many great resources to fit into our 120-minute block of literacy.  While all materials and instructional standards available and suggested are wonderful and incredibly rigorous – the reality is plain and simple, it cannot all be done!  We as professionals need to make decisions about how we can best meet the core curriculum implementation, through creating a design of instruction that facilitates strong implementation.  I believe this is through the reading and writing workshop model, and our classrooms must look different than they had previously.  I plan to provide better instructional leadership to help teachers make this happen!
Finally, as I feel often at Denver Elementary, I felt so, so proud of our teachers.  I had a recent conversation with an individual from outside our district, and he mentioned that our implementation is a model for others.  Our teachers are very professional, hard working, and passionate!  This shows everyday at our elementary school!  My final take-away, was that our teachers are working hard and are really doing a great job implementing the “shifts” required within implementation of the Iowa Core Curriculum. 

My conclusion is that every principal and/or instructional leader needs to become a practitioner and place themselves back in the “trenches”.  For me, it was the most rewarding experience I have ever had as a principal!  I will say, however, that my principal duties took a back seat, and I was up late each night trying to make up for the time that I took away from that very important responsibility.  As a matter of fact, it is an expectation within our district, that we as principals get into every classroom each week, and complete a formal walk-through.  This unfortunately didn’t happen, however, when I walk through classrooms from now on, I will do so as a stronger instructional leader, one that I couldn’t have imagined being, prior to walking a mile in one fifth grade teacher’s shoes!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Why Does Denver CSD dismiss at 2:00 on Wednesday?

At Denver Community School District, we have raised student achievement through our Professional Learning Communities.  We have been recognized nationally for our efforts and have been named, a National Model Professional Learning Community by Solution Tree in 2012.  We focus on learning, focus on results, focus on collaboration all through a systematic process of intervention.   Many schools throughout Iowa visit our district to learn more about our outstanding practice each year!

“PLC’s are so important!  They allow us to share and collaborate ideas for our students in order to obtain and provide the help and support necessary for each child to be successful!”
-Denver Elementary Teacher

Each week our teachers meet to discuss each and every student to be sure that we are meeting every child’s academic needs.  Whether a child has full understanding of what they are learning, or if they are struggling to make connections we work rigorously to plan meaningful, engaging and precise instruction to meet each student at their “zone of proximal development”.  On Wednesday’s every teacher meets within a collaborative team for a approximately 90 minutes.  We have made it a priority to ensure that we are implanting a “guaranteed and viable” curriculum aligned to the Iowa Core, therefore, on Wednesday’s teachers are also looking very closely at their standards and their units to ensure full alignment.  While also becoming crystal clear on what proficiency looks like for each standard, we are also designing assessments, looking at prerequisite skills, which are essential to learning, and also designing enrichment and extension opportunities for students.  The academic demands on our student population have increased, therefore in order to best prepare our students to be college and/or career ready, collaborative planning time, and our 2:00 dismissal on Wednesday, is essential to the success of each child! 

To learn more about Denver’s work with PLC’s, visit:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reading like a Detective and Writing like a Reporter is TOUGH!

Reading like a Detective and Writing like a Reporter is TOUGH!

As teachers begin to facilitate our first few weekly and unit assessments don’t be alarmed if you children’s assessment scores are not quite as high as they were on last year’s reading tests.  As I have shared in the past, our new curriculum brings with it some higher expectations for students and also some shifts in the way that they are asked to dissect and comprehend text.  We now ask students to read far more non-fiction and rigorous text and to also provide text-based answers, based on evidence from within the reading.  We ask students to write from sources, like many professionals do within the working world, we are also asking them to constantly utilize increased levels of academic vocabulary.  With a little more practice, our student' reading test scores will most certainly improve and while our expectations are indeed higher, we do feel that we as educators and students alike will soon feel a sense of pride as we surpass these increased expectations and move to greater levels of college and career readiness. 

September Professional Development

Our district strives to focus on results and to remain data driven!  On Friday, September 13, 2013, we had an outstanding professional development day, in which we focused on our district’s assessment data.  We use data daily within our school system, but we dedicate one day each year specifically, to analyze our district-wide data very closely.  This assessment data help us to assess our curriculum and it’s alignment to the Iowa Core Standards.  Additionally, when evaluating trends, we also spend ample time looking at individual student data and making plans for specific students.  When we dissect data to this extent we use the motto, “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable!” 

Prior to the completion of our work time together, our teachers were responsible for setting an annual professional goal, utilizing the S.M.A.R.T. goal format.  In other words, our teachers utilized the data to create a goal for the school year that is, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. 

After each professional development day, my pride for this school district continues to grow!  Our teachers are so incredibly professional, passionate and committed to learning more so that they can do better for each individual child.  Our next professional development date is Friday, October 11, 2013.  It is then, that distinguished author and professor at San Diego State University, Douglas Fisher, will present to our staff in regard to our new reading curriculum and the specific strategy of “close reading”.

Denver Elementary teachers work collaboratively to analyze student data.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The School Year is a Mountain

Can you believe that it is August already? As always, I am incredibly excited for the beginning of the school year!  I still get that same sense of excitement that I had as a child this time of year!  Speaking of excitement, throughout my travels this summer I was fortunate enough to climb the Manitou Springs Incline in Colorado, which is a 1-mile hike at an average grade of 40%.  It was an incredible challenge for me and as I was climbing I was reminded of the incredible metaphor this mountain provides when comparing the climb to that of the school year. 

First of all, my anticipation and adrenaline started off strong, as I was about 100 yards into hike, I realized I was in for more of a challenge than I had expected, but there was no turning back.  Half-way up, I realized that looking at the summit was no longer an option, I had to divide the hike into smaller chunks or goals, providing myself with a well deserved break each time.  As I was getting closer to the summit, it didn’t get easier, as a matter of fact it became more challenging, however my adrenaline had kicked in and by then my body had surely adjusted to the altitude, but I was incredibly tired.  Twenty feet away from the summit, my legs were on fire, but my mind pressed forward and after reaching the top, I was overjoyed and felt the most incredible sense of accomplishment.  We then took an alternate trip down, which was a 2.4 mile winding hike back down the hill, providing me with an opportunity to catch my breath, take in the beautiful sites once again both helping me to rejuvenate my soul. 

Can you envision the parallels when comparing your child’s school year, to that of climbing a mountain?  We all start off strong, new backpacks are ready, routines are set, intentions are great, and after we start, the excitement may dwindle and school may become harder and maybe more of a chore, but it is then that we must push children to prevail and continue to pace them upward and forward.  The end will surely come and we will have that opportunity for summer to refresh our children’s bodies and spirits once again.   And just as I looked back at my climb, our children will look back at this school year next May and realize, while challenging, there was so much enjoyment full of memories that will last a lifetime!

I wish you all the excitement of climbing a mountain this school year!