Sunday, June 10, 2018

MTSS: It’s School Improvement!

The newest “buzz word” lingering in the halls of schools these days seems to be “MTSS.” While we have a generalized perception of what is meant by the greater realm of Multi-Tiered System of Support, do we really understand all that it entails? Is it as complicated as it seem, and does it truly hold the magical answers we are looking for?
Because MTSS takes shape in a school as a framework of understanding and conceptualization rather than a process, individual schools have many ways to develop and design their structures with an overall goal of total school improvement. In many instances, MTSS has been given an improper descriptor as “the road to EC.” While much of it may focus on early intervention for both academic and behavioral needs, MTSS runs much deeper in schools. MTSS is truly comprised of anything within the school that plays a part in school improvement.

So, how does MTSS affect school improvement anyway?

School Culture: Morale and sense of belonging play an important role in school improvement for all stakeholders. Teacher appreciation recognitions, school clubs and dances, and annual community events create safe environments for school families and allow for everyone to be positively engaged. Creating such environments only enhances the culture of a school and, ultimately, works toward school improvement. School culture, in this respect, is a key factor of effective MTSS structures.

Teaming Structures: MTSS relies heavily on a problem-solving model. The use of teaming structures within a school justifies that school concerns have been thoughtfully considered and dealt with accordingly. School improvement teams, climate committees, professional learning communities, and grade level or departmental committees are just a few examples of how everyone having a voice to arrive at a decision outweighs a “one and done” leadership initiative. Teaming structures are vital for problem-solving and promoting school improvement initiatives.

Data-Informed Decision-Making: These days, it seems almost impossible to make any decision without reason to do so. Data is essential in all aspects of teaching, and the appropriate use of data spotlights effective MTSS structures throughout a school. Turning to both student outcome data (class assignments, grades, assessment scores) and implementation data (fidelity checks, walkthrough information) when making decisions only clarifies the purpose and need for making the chosen “next steps.” The use of data directly correlates with school improvement.

Community Involvement: With the rising financial demands of schools, it is nearly impossible to thrive without the support of the community. Reaching out to community members and businesses to support school functions, staff and student recognitions, or to serve on the School Improvement Team are simple ways to involve the community and develop mutually beneficial relationships. Involvement of the community has great impact on school improvement.

Yes, intervention has an important role on MTSS, but the framework has the ability to be much broader than that. Because it is synonymous with school improvement, anything that improves the overall function of the school is ultimately deemed MTSS. There are so many ways our daily routines and actions create an MTSS framework.

About the Author:
Lynn Plummer serves as the MTSS Coordinator for Stanly County Schools and is the secretary of North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators. A North Carolina Teaching Fellow, Plummer taught kindergarten and third grade before serving as an elementary curriculum coach. Upon earning his Master of School Administration from UNC Charlotte in 2015, Plummer began working district-wide with schools, supporting MTSS initiatives and efforts. Join in all things education by following him @lwplummer and learn more about NC MTSS in the Livebinder.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Region 5 Conference

Plant it!  On April 19th, NCAEE Region 5 educators came together for fun, food, and fellowship all centered around planting a growth mindset in our classrooms.  Breakout sessions included topics such as establishing a growth mindset in the content area classroom and growing teacher leaders. Bruce Carroll and Aaron Burr, Davidson County administrators, presented on teacher leadership and said the conference had “energetic participants that clearly cared about self growth and building their capacity to affect the students in their care.” Going along with the growth mindset theme, attendee Janell Willard said the workshop she joined “emphasized the ‘power of yet,’ the key to our students' success in everyday problem solving and STEM activities.”

Keynote Michael Beadle wowed the crowd with an interactive poetic presentation.  In celebration of April being National Poetry Month, Michael performed the poem, “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll with the assistance of audience members.  The audience volunteers hilariously put their spin on Michael’s recommended character movements, which reinforced how interactive poetry is engaging for children and adults. As one attendee said, “something simple like a poem… can turn into a dynamic experience for your students.” Michael’s enthusiasm for poetry was a refreshing reminder of the power of poetry for many struggling students.

Another takeaway was Michael’s explanation of “amateur.”  The root word for “amateur” is “amor” which means love.  As a teacher, it is an important reminder that we must work within our passion to educate students. Having a growth mindset is not only significant in the classroom, but also across our careers.

5 Fantastic Facts about Michael:
-       A+ Schools Fellow
-       Author of 5 poetry books, a poetry CD, and 3 historic photograph books
-       Former journalist
-       Touring writer-in-residence
-       Emcee for the N.C. Poetry Out Loud state finals

Michael personally inspired me with his “vowels” for the classroom.

Our diverse population of attendees provided a glimpse into what our conference was like.

Parent/ Classroom Paraprofessional
“I was curious to learn all about the power of YET! I learned some techniques that would help foster a growth mindset to use in all aspects of life.” – Carolyn Pack

Salem College Professor
“From engaging and informative presentations, a delicious dinner, time of networking, and door prize drawings, to the closing keynote by award-winning performing poet, participants were motivated and inspired to return to their classrooms and sow the seeds of a growth mindset!” – Debbie Linville

Principal Intern
“The conference definitely provided a space for us to explore the true meaning behind ‘growth mindset’ and made me think about how I can better convey this message to my teachers.” – Chris Terzigni

5th Grade Teacher
“The sessions led conversations on how to best reinforce growth mindset in the classroom in order to ensure that students recognize the impacts of hard work and effort.” - Becky Koza

Regional Advisory Council Member
"Our conference has always been a great way to network with other teachers and administrators in the area.” – Alysha Christian

High Point University Student Teacher
"As a new teacher, I especially appreciate any chance to hear from others, so I can evaluate my practices and hone them for my own classroom." – Courtney Hedgecock

About the Author
Leni Fragakis is the Region 5 Director of NCAEE. She currently teaches 5th grade at The Arts Based School. Leni has her BA (Elementary Education, minor Special Education), MEd (Literacy), and administration add-on from High Point University.  She is working toward her EdD in cultural foundations and leadership from UNCG.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Mindfulness Matters

I was first introduced to the concept of mindfulness in 2014 as a Teaching Fellow.  I was part of the Charlotte Teaching Fellows Institute and they brought an expert speaker to share these strategies and ideas.  Dr. Amy Saltzman shared her expertise with our group.  Mindfulness was something that was new and interesting and I loved the idea of using it with students.   I was excited to begin using it.
The idea of using mindfulness began to catch on and I felt knowledgeable because of my Teaching Fellows Institute experience but I still wasn’t really implementing it with my students.  I felt like it was something that was to be added.  It wasn’t until I changed my perspective to look at it as part of our everyday learning that I began to use it with my students and to truly see the benefits.
Mindfulness can be practiced as little as five to ten minutes a day with your students. On a daily basis I have my students stop and reflect on their day and their goals. They take five minutes to focus on themselves.  They are then able to work better on the projects at hand.   It is a chance for them  to reflect.  As Mindful Schools co-founder Laurie Grossman says, mindfulness is “to pay attention, on purpose, to the present moment.”  It is not letting the little moments go by unnoticed. 

This year I also had my 4th and 5th grade students chose one word to guide them. Some of the words they chose were peace, determination and challenge.   Each student has a copy of their word in their notebook.  I also hung them in the hall to inspire other students.  They use their word to help them when they are feeling unfocused.   It helps them be mindful of their goals and of how they want to live their lives. 

Our speaker as well as the other materials that I have read on mindfulness shows that there are many positive benefits of teaching mindfulness.  As teachers use the strategies and incorporate them into the daily activity students are having reduced stress and anxiety, increased concentration and engagement, improved social skills and better problem solving and decision making skills. 
A resource that I have used is Mindfulness for Teachers by Patricia Jennings.  In her book she states that mindfulness can help us to be more effective at reducing conflict and developing more positive way of relating in the classroom.  This in turn helps us as teachers feel more job satisfaction.  I have used her book so much that another NCAEE Board member, Megan Charlton, and I used it as a resource for our recent #NCAEEChat on Twitter. 
Another resource that I like is the Teach Starter website.  They have many ideas and strategies on their site. (The items that I have used have been free but they do have a paid portion to their site.)  It is a great tool that is easy to use. They also have their materials set up in such a way that it is user friendly and something that every teacher can do with their students.
The experience that I had as a Charlotte Teaching Fellow set me up for my journey to using mindfulness as it allowed me the chance to be exposed and learn more.  I feel that mindfulness makes all the difference in my day.  It is something that teachers can use and definitely see the benefit of with their students. 

Dr. Nancy Betler is a Talent Development Teacher at Eastover Elementary and primarily works with gifted and high-ability students in grades K-5.  As a National Board Certified Teacher, she fully embraces life-long learning and has recently earned her doctorate degree.  Nancy is also heavily involved with the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators (NCAEE) and serves as a Board Member. She looks forward to connecting with you on Twitter @nbetler and being a part of your PLN!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

HOT TOPIC: Emotional and Social Development

My kids recently taught me how to download and use Bitmoji. 
Bitmoji is designed for you to create a virtual version of yourself that you can use to share a reaction (emotion) and to empathize with others during virtual communications, like text messages or email. I’ve been experimenting with it and like that it bridges the use of text (word only) formats and enhances communication. For example, in situations where I would usually add a smiley or sad face emoji, there is now an opportunity for more sophisticated interaction using words, facial expression, and body language together. This allows for a higher-order level of emotional literacy and a novel pathway to grow in and express our social competence. Emotional and social development matters, according to researchers (Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015), beginning as early as kindergarten! It’s also quite a bit of fun!

Why focus on Emotional and Social Development?

Emotional Literacy Impact
Children who can identify and express their emotions are better able to manage strong emotions. Therefore, they often have better relationships with children in their classroom and have better social skills. These are important competencies in school.
Emotion Regulation Impact
When children regulate emotions, they can work in collaborative groups, play with other students, and engage in behaviors such as asking questions, offering ideas to a group, and investigating an idea that supports academic success and positive relationships. Learning to regulate one’s emotions involves learning skills over time that are essential for doing well in school and in relationships.

Did you know? 
Emotional and social development in kindergarten has a lasting impact for our students. According to a 20-year study (Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015) conducted in Durham, Nashville, Seattle and central Pennsylvania, teacher-rated social competence was a significant indicator of both positive and negative future outcomes for children.

A few highlights from the study by Jones and colleagues, 2015:
For every one-point increase on the 5-point scale in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she was:
Twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood;
54% more likely to earn a high school diploma; and
46% more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25.

For every one-point decrease in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, he/she had:
67% higher chance of having been arrested by early adulthood;
82% higher rate of recent marijuana usage; and
82% higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing.

Three things to try in your classroom now!

 A Safe Place
Create a safe place in your classroom.
Notice that the teacher has activities and rules posted in this safe place.
Children will need opportunities to practice learning how to use a safe place. Teachers model and demonstrate how to use a safe place as an effective strategy for regulating emotions and supporting the development of social competence.

Calm Down Tools
A great example of a calm down tool is a calm down bottle. It can be homemade by adding glitter glue, warm water, and regular glitter to a bottle with a leak-proof lid. Then, students can use the calm down bottle as a hands-on strategy for regulating emotions by shaking up the bottle and watching the glitter settle to the bottom.
Children will require practice to learn to use a tool like this, and teachers can model and demonstrate in-the-moment and over time to promote successful use. To see a YouTube demonstration about how to make a calm down bottle, see the YouTube link provided.

Breathing or Counting Strategies
A simple way to help students regulate emotions is to teach them to count slowly to five and/or
take deep breaths. They will need practice to use this strategy when they are faced with a need to regulate their emotions. Teachers can model in-the-moment and scaffold the use of these strategies in an ongoing way. It is helpful to provide prompts as you demonstrate, “Let’s count like we’re in slow motion together” or “Let’s take a big breath together.”

Additional resources from the NCDPI Office of Early Learning:
Emotional Literacy Quick Guide
Emotion Regulation Quick Guide

Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early social-emotional functioning and public health: The relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105(11), p 283-290. Retrieved November 17, 2017:

Join the #NCAEEchat on Thursday, January 11th from 8:00-9:00 on Twitter as we discuss Emotional and Social Development. 

About the Author:
Dr. Cindy Dewey serves on the Board of Directors for NCAEE as the NCDPI At-Large Director. At NCDPI, Cindy serves as an education consultant in the Office of Early Learning on the K-3 Formative Assessment Team. Cindy’s teaching experiences span several states and include elementary, middle, high school, and university levels. This is Cindy’s fifth year serving NCAEE.

This is the second blog post on this topic by Dr. Dewey, click here for the first blog: