Congratulations to Mary Schraven, UVM Outstanding Teacher!

October 22uvmnd marked the 34th annual Outstanding Teacher Day. Each year University of Vermont honors exceptional educators around our state. Mary Schraven was recognized from FWSU. These fine educators exemplify the five standards for VT teachers – Learning, Professional Knowledge, Advocacy, Colleagueship, and Accountability. We are proud of our 2014 Outstanding Teachers!

Today on the blog we are highlighting a Q & A with Outstanding Teacher Mary Schraven. Mrs. Schraven teaches First Grade at BFA Fairfax.  

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1. What excites you most about being a teacher?           

Entering the classroom every morning and knowing that today is the day that I can make a difference in a student’s life; and if it doesn’t happen that day I have the opportunity to make a difference the next. I love the possibility to inspire, motivate or prompt a student to take a risk and take the reins of their own potential.

2. How has your teaching changed since you started?

Technology has had a dramatic influence on both how we teach and how children learn; adapting to these changes and understanding the value of this shift has been one of the biggest changes since I first began my work as a teacher. The use of these new technologies help to keep families and the community connected. Teachers have to be mindful of how we communicate.

3. What is the important thing you have learned as an educator?

Over my 20+ years as an educator, I’ve learned that to make a difference, one needs to have passion, skill and perseverance. A teacher needs to be flexible to meet the challenges and the evolving standards and demands of each individual student that enters the classroom.

4. What do you like to do for fun?

I like to spend time with my daughters, kayak, and practice archery. I love attending Broadway shows while visiting New York City. Most recently I’ve been learning how to play the piano and I’ve started to take singing lessons.

“Mary has been educating students for 25 years at BFA Fairfax.  Her contagious smile and positive outlook have supported and inspired students throughout. Mary’s classroom is highly engaging and students are consistently held to high academic and behavioral standards.  Mary is a role model and advocate for all students as they confront and overcome any challenge they may encounter in their lives.  We are so fortunate that Mary is a part of the BFA Fairfax family.” - Principal Thomas Walsh

Congratulations to Melissa Fisher, UVM Outstanding Teacher!

uvmOctober 22nd marked the 34th annual Outstanding Teacher Day. Each year University of Vermont honors exceptional educators around our state. Melissa Fisher (GEMS) was recognized from FWSU. These fine educators exemplify the five standards for VT teachers – Learning, Professional Knowledge, Advocacy, Colleagueship, and Accountability. We are proud of our 2014 Outstanding Teachers!

Today on the blog we are highlighting a Q & A with Outstanding Teacher Melissa Fisher. Mrs. Fisher is a Guidance Counselor at GEMS. 

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1) What excites you most about being a teacher?
I love the excitement and energy that comes with middle school “life!”
2) How has your teaching changes since you started?
When I first started 18 years ago, I feel I was pretty naive about what would help middle schoolers as they navigate through the world. What life was like for me in middle school is so different from today. Being current on the needs of kids and families is important. In the last couple of years I have done more work with students in a leadership role and I have learned a LOT from them. Give them the opportunity, and they will shine!
3) What is the most important thing you have learned as an educator?
Relationships are essential! Not only the relationships you build with your students, but also with the families, community and staff. This work can be challenging at times, but the more we can work together, the better for all of us.
4) What do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy hiking with my 9-year-old and I’ve gotten into running the last few years – “fun” and a great stress reliever!
Melissa without doubt has been able to juggle the tremendous responsibilities that go with having a comprehensive guidance program for all Georgia students. Her influence goes far beyond the social and  emotional well being of all our students. Melissa directs our EST, case manages 504 students and totally coordinates the high school choice for all of our eighth graders.  She is an outstanding colleague to all and  has volunteered to mentor many of our young teachers. Melissa’s endless energy and caring is what makes her a role model for all of us. Thank you Melissa.
      —– Frank Calano. Middle School Principal

Lights, Camera, LEARNING

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment. FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step. Provide multiple avenues for staff to lead, advocate, and serve within the school and community while developing learning habits, communication and problem solving skills necessary for collaborative learning and leadership.

Indicator of Success. Creativity and risk-taking will be evident and celebrated as learners embrace new technologies.

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As Georgia Elementary Teachers continue to discuss implementation of technology and improving digital performance opportunities among students, it has become increasingly important to monitor and share specific programs/apps being utilized within our classrooms. Through the vision and approach of the  SAMR model as well as practicing a  PLC collaborative network approach, Georgia Elementary Teachers have met monthly to share their expertise, reflect on practice, and build a common understanding of new instructional methodologies. The importance of this work is to create a more equitable educational environment for all students and to share best practices, that are working for students, among colleagues.

FullSizeRenderRecently, teachers gathered and discussed the possibilities of “How can the ipad camera transform education”? This question/task was provided weeks before our professional gathering and expectations were for teachers to collaboratively share and model the diverse opportunities implemented within classrooms, throughout our school, with this unique ipad tool.

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Conversations of parent communication, student learning opportunities, and augmentative communication stemmed from this professional opportunity and a great variety of learning tools were modeled.

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 “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”

Fletcher Students Save for Success

Target 3. Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step 1 – Provide students with access to content, resources, and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls.

Indicators of Success – The school calendar and the definition of the school day changes to become flexible and responsive to the needs of students.

Financial literacy, in part, is the ability to understand how money is earned and saved in the world, and the importance of preparing for one’s future. In addition to these overarching concepts, the ability to understand the mathematics behind our system of planning and saving is essential.

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At Fletcher Elementary, roughly 40 preschool through sixth grade students are registered for the Save for Success Program, offered by the Union Bank. Every Friday before school, parent volunteers Aimee Tinker and Karrie Sweet open up the Fletcher “branch” of the bank in the school’s lobby and students drop by with their deposits. According to Tinker, they have received deposits as low as eight cents. The deposits tend to grow after holidays, birthdays and other special occasions. Students also take their passbooks and make transactions at actual bank locations. Students are encouraged to count out their own deposits and they often help each other check their math. The actual amount of each deposit becomes secondary to learning the principles of saving. Students may have a savings or certificate of deposit account and Union Bank deposits the first dollar for every child.

In addition to weekly banking, students in fifth and sixth grade participated in a presentation that coincided with their weekly classroom theme of perseverance. Tinker worked with students to understand how, by saving a little at a time, their funds would grow, Students calculated how much money they would have if they saved one dollar per week for the year, and how much they could save if they did the same between preschool and sixth grade. Many students were very surprised! The concept of saving is also reinforced through the small incentives students earn each time they make a deposit. They may take a small incentive each time or accumulate their number of deposits for a larger incentive.

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In addition to encouraging students to save and teaching the fundamentals of finance, students are able to monitor their financial success through monthly account statements that are mailed to their homes. At home with parental supervision, students also have electronic access to their accounts.

“We at Union Bank believe that educating young people about their finances today will create better informed adults, more capable of making intelligent investment decisions tomorrow,” Union Bank President and CEO David Silverman said in a letter to parents.  The Save for Success program received the 1997 Outstanding Contributions to Consumer Education Award from the American Bankers Association Education Foundation.

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Fifth Grader Richard B said, “I’ve learned that you have to save your money if you really want something.”

“The banking program is good for kids because it can help you be responsible later on and to remember to keep your money safe and make good decisions so that you don’t waste it,” third grader Malayna S said.

Read tips for parents on financial literacy here.

Special Educators and Paraprofessionals Learn to Use Adaptive Technology

Target 1Student-Centered Learning. FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step – Increase easily accessible opportunities for global collaboration for teachers and students.

Indicators of Success – Students and staff will create personalized learning networks to communicate and collaborate with others.

One of the many professional development sessions offered at the October 16, 2014 FWSU Inservice was: “Using Technology for Adaptations/Accommodations to Support Students with Disabilities.” This was presented by Angelique Fairbrother, FWSU Digital Learning Specialist, and Rhonda Siemons, BFA Technology Integrationist. Together they provided new and enhanced learning to special educator-paraprofessional teams.

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The focus of this session was to enable the teams to explore digital tools available for them to use with their students. It also provided an arena to share ideas on how to provide regular learning opportunities and improve access to build student independence. Some of the tools explored were Text-to-Speech and Speech-to-Text digital options. In addition to access, the teams discussed what scaffolding students may need to be successful using grade-level materials.

In addition, the group reviewed SBAC Accessibility and Accommodations Guidelines and Practice Test formats. This allowed for the team to identify learning opportunities that staff can provide for students with disabilities. The goal is to increase functional independence with complex text and writing assignments in the classroom, before students encounter the SBAC.

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This opportunity helped staff to focus on their students and determine what learning supports the team can offer so students with disabilities can tackle rigorous classroom assignments, project-based learning, and computer-adapted assessments.

FWSU Educators Engage in Action Research

Nearly 25 teachers and administrators from all FWSU schools have begun a graduate course, Digital Learning Through Action Research. Using action research, participants will research, plan, design and evaluate strategies to integrate digital tools using MacBooks and iPads into their practice. By sharing their action research plans for digital learning with others in a personal learning network, each will be able to collaborate and gain feedback from peers. This Action research process will act as a catalyst to promote further inquiry into how digital learning can best be integrated.

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As teachers became more competent and more fearless, we have created teacher-centered opportunities through blended and self-paced learning opportunities, and teacher-driven action research.

The participants in the course start out the course with exploratory sessions using different digital tools on the Macbook. After examining how digital tools can be used, the participants will then pick a topic to explore further through action research.

Based on the growth mindset, the DLAR course allows people to try new ways of digital learning, gathering data from their work with students, and then plan forward designing  ways they will continue with work. The course puts the technology into their hands, the resources in their back pockets, and the pat on the back they need to take the first crazy steps.

The professional development in FWSU created a flexible learning environment for teachers through a blended learning model and creative use of funds.  Teachers design their own course based on their personal learning needs.  Because teachers chose their own action research and pedagogy they wanted to examine in their content areas, they get to direct their own learning.

The DLAR used the framework of the iTunes U to gather the action research artifacts and teacher’s on-the spot reflections.  Teachers were invited to  learn the iTunes U course manager in order to gather and document evidence of the digital learning of both the adult facilitating the learning and the students invited into the learning.

Rep. Carolyn Branagan Visits GEMS

Target 4 — Engaged Community Partners . FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

Action Step 2 — Engage community partners in a focused collaborative inquiry process.

Indicator of Success — Learning outcomes will be expanded to encourage curiosity, communication, and digital citizenry.

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Today the GEMS 6th Grade students enjoyed the opportunity to visit with Georgia’s State Representative, Carolyn Branagan. During her visit with 6th Grade class, Mrs.Branagan shared insights on her work as a state legislator.

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Rep. Branagan highlighted the high level of commitment in time and energy that is needed to do the job really well. During the student body question-and-answer period, a student asked about this year’s elections. Rep. Branagan responded that she is running unopposed, but that she is still campaigning door-to-door within the community.

IMG_0621As the visit with Rep. Branagan neared the end, students presented some of their thoughts on needs for the Georgia Community. Students feel there is a need to have sidewalks throughout the community allowing for people to move about safely. A community skatepark and a police department was suggested as well.

The final activity engaged students in a debriefing session. Students had great discussions such as:

  1.  What did you take away from the presentation?
  2. What will you remember about this presentation a year from now?
  3. Explain your definition of Citizenship.
  4. Cite examples of teamwork from the presentation.
  5. Cite examples of strong Citizenship.
This rich learning experience fits into the overall 6th Grade emphasis on working together, citizenship, and commitment to community. It was a great day of learning at GEMS!

Common Core: Should I Be Worried?

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“Will my children’s school change because of the Common Core?  Will all the “good things” you show in the blog be gone once the Common Core comes to Vermont?   I have read so much about it.  I am scared!”

This email arrived last week. It posed the question so many parents are asking right now. The short answer is, “No, the Common Core will not get rid of the good things happening in our schools.” What you see on the FWSU Blog is the result of the Common Core and the work teachers have done to increase learning opportunities in our schools.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is a set of academic standards – nothing more and nothing less. It sets forth a progression of learning targets by grade level. It can be a tool for parents.  If a parent can  understand what their child needs to know and be able to do at each grade level (the Common Core), together we can monitor academic growth. Children learn differently, so not all students will meet every grade level target at the same time, but the CCSS provides a guide and benchmarks. Because the Common Core Standards are national standards, parents know that their children in FWSU are receiving similar learning opportunities as children across the country.

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The Common Core State Standards were developed for students living in a digital age, and they are designed so that students will be “career and college ready” in a modern world. There is no “Boogie Man” hiding between the lines to invoke fear – they were prepared to guide us. Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe, calls them “aspirational”- they are designed to encourage us to set our sights high. High performance means different things in today’s world, and our academic standards have changed as the world changes.

photo 1 (1)The great news? In Vermont, our districts decide how the go about increasing the rigor in our schools. In FWSU, our Action Plan defines our priority to develop Personalized Learning, and the Common Core helps us to benchmark excellence within that framework. The State of Vermont has not dictated texts, set non-negotiable curriculum, or punished teachers based on student scores. Much of the argument we hear in the media against the CCSS is based on the approaches different states have taken with the Common Core Standards.

In FWSU, we have sought to expose students to a global world, to connect them with authentic sources of material, to engage them in real-world projects as part of their academic learning. We provide them with more texts and greater experiences because we have access to digital tools. We provide opportunities for them to be leaders in their world. But still they laugh, play, have fun and contribute to their community with their friends.  photo 1 (24)

The Common Core is here! Do you wonder what changes the Common Core is calling for? Check here for a summary of the major shifts in reading and writing instruction.   Do you hear about “Common Core Math”? Check here for a simple explanation of the shifts teachers are making in math curriculum and instruction.

We have a ways to go to meet our goals of developing Personalized Learning in each of our classrooms. The blog helps us document that process. Stick with us and watch us grow!

Students Extend Helping Hands to Fairfax Seniors

Target 2Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment. FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Ensure students and staff take an active role shaping their learning using rich, authentic questions, problems they identify, & diverse resources.

Indicator of Success – Teachers embrace role of coach, facilitator and co-learner in a student-centered learning environment.

Senior Coffee Hour was held last week at the Mountain View Apartments Community Room during BFA Fairfax Support Block. Students prepared and served coffee, tea, banana muffins, and fruit salad.  They even made a delivery to a senior that was not able to attend.

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Students had this to say about their community outreach:

“Coffee hour was a great event!”

“So nice having the senior apartments so close to our school.”

“It was cool especially for the lady that we delivered muffins to.”

This learning opportunity encourages students make connections with neighbors and make a difference in their community and world.

October is National Principals Month!

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment
FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Redefine high performance in a student-centered, collaborative,
technologically rich learning environment

Indicator of Success – Creativity and risk-taking will be evident and celebrated as learners embrace new technologies.

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Although it may not be an official “Hallmark” holiday, October has been designated as National Principal Month. At FWSU we are extremely proud of the hardworking and dedicated administrators in our schools.

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Principal Steve Emery – GEMS (@Emery_Gems )

Principals play a pivotal role in the success of every student. Research has shown that a school without a leader committed to success of its students will not succeed to the highest levels. Effective leadership not only matters: it is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning,

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Principal Mike Clark – BFA (@1939Ford9N )

How do our Principals achieve this high performance in our schools? First, they set direction – creating a clear course that everyone understands, establishing high expectations and using data to track progress and performance.

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Principal Tom Walsh – BFA (@ecucatamount)

Second, they also help the staff in our school professionally develop and grow as educators. Principals look beyond the horizon of the day-to-day and help create conditions where creativity and innovation can occur.

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Principal Frank Calano – GEMS (@fcalano)

Third, they believe in our students and care for them deeply. Creating a culture that meets the needs of all students is on the top of their priority list every day. Making sure that students reach their full potential is what drives them.

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Principal Chris Dodge – FES (@FletcherFalcon )

Fourth, they ensure their buildings organizations work. This sets the environment free for teachers and students to achieve their hopes and dreams each and every day. Whether its shoveling the front entrance or fixing a ceiling tile, our Principals want our learning environments and classrooms to be top-notch.

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Asst. Principal Geri Witalec – BFA (@GLWit )

Finally, they take risks. We all know that sometimes new initiatives and practices do not always succeed on the first attempt they practice a Growth Mindset. Not only for themselves, but everyone in the school. They believe our students and staff can be developed through dedication and hard work.