Sunday, December 25, 2016

Risk is Worth the Reward

Bueller? Bueller? Anyone? Anyone? Professional development can be a Ben Stein experience from the famous movie, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Although school districts don't intentionally bore their staff, it happens. As an administrative team we often reflect on our practice after a professional development opportunity occurs and often come to the conclusion that there has to be a better way. Most recently we engaged in conversation about our upcoming professional development day. It was during this conversation that we decided to embark on a new way of doing business. Enter #EdCamp!
Image borrowed from
Edcamp is an unconference format in which professional development opportunities or conversations are created during the first 20-30 minutes of the experience. Essentially the agenda is a blank slate and the participants in the process fill it to capacity with their own areas of interest and passion. Here is a picture of our completed board.

Our sessions included topics, such as, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Creative Lessons, Scratch, Google Classroom, YouTube, Workload Management, Benefits, Blogging, Retirement Planning, BreakoutEDU, and others. Our facilitators included experts in the areas, staff members and students. The student involvement was neat to see. I was very proud of their willingness to come in and facilitate sessions on Snapchat and Scratch. The inclusion of students in the process was a great decision and they will most definitely be included in future Edcamps.

A collage of photos...
When we made a decision to go the Edcamp route for professional development, we knew we were taking a risk. As the Edcamp took place, it became instantly evident that the JWP staff was appreciative of this new format. At the conclusion of the event staff members completed a survey regarding their experience. 90% of staff members either agreed or strongly agreed that the Edcamp was time well spent. 10% of staff members were neutral in regards to the same question. Overall, I would consider that a success. When asked, here is what staff members said about their experience.

"The EdCamp was relevant to what I wanted to learn!"
"I got to learn more about topics I had little knowledge of, and also got to participate in discussions and throw my own ideas out for others."
"We had choices to PD so it was meaningful and useful to me."

The goal in professional development is to improve practice. The Edcamp process allowed staff members to seek out opportunities to improve in areas of need. A traditional process would have been a one size fits all approach. As we continue to shift our educational setting to providing more personalized learning opportunities for students, we felt the administration should probably model that approach. Edcamp was a risk that paid off! Thankfully, no Ben Stein experience here...

To check out our Edcamp, click here.

Friday, December 23, 2016

FAIL isn't what you think...

Image borrowed from Gustav Gous Blog
Okay. So here it goes. Every year at the TIES Conference I leave with brilliant new ideas and a brain filled beyond capacity (albeit I leave with great food for the brain). This year's experience is no different except for the fact that I have been able to identify an epic fail in my leadership and my understanding of innovation.

I consider myself to be a pretty progressive leader that tends to look for the absolute best ways to educate students. Although this perception of myself could be entirely incorrect, I am pretty proud of my techy knowledge and application. Over the past five years, I have consistently promoted and supported JWP staff in being technologically innovative. After all, we are preparing our students for the 21st century and beyond.

Having the opportunity to listen to Eric Schneider (@Eric21cLead) and Tammi Wilkens (@tlwilktech) talk about innovation has caused my mindset to make a shift in understanding and leading innovation. Throw on top of this my completed readings of Renegade Leadership by Brad Gustafson (@GustafsonBrad) and The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros (@gcouros). To top everything off, I also had the opportunity to hear Dean Shareski (@shareski) and Carl Hooker (@mrhooker) speak.  The blending of innovation, technology, and enjoyment have created a unique recipe. Quite frankly, I believe this recipe would make the Chef Gordon Ramsey of education smile!

So my mind has been stirring quite rapidly since these thoughts have converged in my brain. What can we do differently to ignite passion and learning in our students? Essentially, what can we do as a united school district and community to make this happen? There are some guiding questions, with some tweaks from pretty amazing innovators to consider as we refine our educational opportunities here at JWP that we need to answer. However, before we do that we need to define some things.

The first thing we need to define is innovation. If I were to ask you what that is, many of you would define it as including some form of technology. Truth be told, innovation does not necessarily mean the utilization of technology. In this case, it simply means doing things differently. Can we identify the one or many different pedagogical (the method and practice of teaching) ideas that will improve learning and the process of learning for students? When you think innovation, you should not have any restraints on possibilities or ideas. Let them flow. Brainstorm. Innovate!

Secondly, let's talk technology. The elephant in the room is the extent to which technology should be used. Yes, technology is the present and future and we need students to be exposed to it but it should not be considered the end all, be all of teaching and learning. Yet, it should be considered as an important vehicle for innovation. As stated in, Building the Workforce of Tomorrow, Today, nearly 50% of all jobs today include technology skills and within the decade, they predict 77% of jobs will require technology skills ( Therefore, it is imperative that we provide students with device agnostic opportunities to learn. They need to be prepared.

Lastly, lets talk ignite, spark, joy, and passion. When given choices in life as adults on things to study, do, and engage in, we tend to gravitate toward things we enjoy. For some of you, it may be golfing and for others it might be sudokus. The bottom line...we all find joy in different adventures. We need to identify these passions and ignite learning in a variety of ways.

The above defining pieces provide us with these guiding questions:

1. Have we asked the students what they need, how they need it and when they need it? "It" being learning.
2. Have we (teachers) asked ourselves, "Would we like to be a student in our classroom today?" ~ Posed by George Couros Have we answered that honestly?
3. Question two revised a bit, "Would we (administrators and board members) want to be an employee in the system we have created?"
4. Are we allowing teachers the autonomy to make professional decisions about what is best for each individual child? Are we supporting their innovation?
5. Are we truly working with students to identify their joys in life? Are we igniting their learning and providing links to learning via their passions?
6. As a district, what can we do to enhance learning with innovation? Remember, that doesn't necessarily mean with technology.
7. What are we doing to involve all stakeholders (students, teachers, administrators, school board, parents, community, business, etc...) in innovation development?
8. Are we advocating at the state and federal level for educational reform that allows for innovation?
9. What can we do in our own school district to completely transform our system?
10. Are we ready to take risks and revise?

Now that my epic fail is out of the way, let's innovate and personalize education!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Another Day in Paradise!

Bruce Manthe Welcomes Guests
If you have walked the hallways of the Janesville Public School District or the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton Public School District over the past 38 years, you've heard the phrase: "Another day in paradise." If you were ever to ask Bruce Manthe how his day was going, you were greeted with that response. Bruce worked his final day in the district today and he will be missed immensely by so many people.

I, for one, had a unique opportunity to work with Bruce in several different capacities throughout his career in our school district. Specifically, I can recall a time when I was a first grade student at Janesville Elementary and Bruce came to the rescue to clean up after me. However, I do have an excuse, I was really sick. Throughout my high school years Bruce would often provide me with positive words of encouragement as I pursued my dreams. At times, Bruce would also redirect my decision making.

After high school and college I returned to the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District as an elementary teacher. At this point, Bruce and I began working together. During my time as a teacher in the district I was able to observe Bruce's positive interactions with students and the relationships they developed. Over the past five years I have served as the superintendent of this school district and as Bruce's boss. Once again, I had the opportunity to see Bruce in action enjoying his days in paradise.

Bruce Manthe, you'll be missed by so many. Thank you for your service to this district, our community, and most importantly, our students. For the past 38 years you have been correct, working with students is, "another day in paradise."

Open House for Bruce Manthe

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Chance of a Lifetime

Nthabiseng Dlamini - Inbound Experience from South Africa

Nthabiseng (Nthabi) Dlamini, Julia Prieto, Mathilde Lund, and Alli Schuch. What do these names have in common? These are students that have recently been inbound or outbound on Youth Exchange to Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton or to another country. In essence, they have all experienced Rotary's Youth Exchange Program.

The Rotary Youth Exchange Program allows students from the United States and other countries to be ambassadors for their homeland. This program has provided our students with unique opportunities to gain authentic cultural experiences. We are proud to boast that each opportunity has been exceptional for our students.

Rotary Youth Exchange depends on an entire school community to make the experience exceptional. The need for host families is a priority. In order for these students to travel to the United States or go outbound, we need families willing and able to host. In order to continue this opportunity for our school community, we need host families!

Bryn Dunbar will be arriving in the United State in January, 2017 from Zimbabwe. Within Zimbabwe he resides in the city of Harare in the Province of Mashonaland. This community has roughly 1.56 million people. Therefore, Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton will be a bit of an adjustment.

Bryn is 17 years old and is the oldest child in his family. He has a mother, father and three brothers. He is extremely excited to live in the United States and meet the wonderful people of our three communities that make up our district.

If you are interested in more information regarding the hosting process and opportunity, please contact me as soon as possible at 507.234.5181 or

History of Youth Exchange (
- The program started in 1971
- We have hosted 35 students from 25 different countries.
- We have sent 14 students to 11 different countries.
- 114 host families have accommodated inbound students.
Julia Prieto - Inbound Experience from Argentina
Allison Schuch - Outbound Experience in Belgium

Mathilde Lund - Inbound Experience from Denmark

Friday, November 11, 2016

It is Inevitable!

Although we have been greeted with a beautiful fall, winter weather will soon be here. This brings up the question regarding school cancellations for weather related situations. Therefore, here is my best attempt to answer the question.

NWS Windchill Chart.gif

Cold Weather Related

As you might recall, in the past, we had several school days closed due to excessively cold weather.  I am hopeful that we will not experience those extreme temperatures this year.  With that said, I would like to remind our constituents of guiding principles for closing school due to extreme temperatures.

  • Our school buses are housed indoors and are in excellent condition.  In the unlikely event that mechanical failure would occur during cold weather, there are backup buses that can respond to lend assistance in short order.
  • Wind chill temperature, actual temperature and frostbite time frames are taken into consideration when making a decision to stay open or closed. I utilize the NWS Wind Chill Chart as my guide.  If frostbite times are in the 30 minutes range, it will be my recommendation to hold school as planned provided other issues such as snowfall, visibility & road conditions are acceptable.
  • I believe that if we operate within the wind chill parameters set forth above, we are putting the safety of students first, but also providing opportunities to continue school on regularly scheduled days.
  • I ask that parents pay special attention to proper clothing for their children during the winter season and especially during these very cold conditions.  Whether a child is in Kindergarten or in 12th grade, all students should have proper winter apparel including mittens and hat before venturing out.
  • If the decision is made to hold school on days of negative wind chills, it is the parent's final responsibility to determine whether it is safe for their child to go to school.  Throughout our district, we have so many different circumstances with different families that a single decision by the superintendent may not properly respond to the consideration of a particular family.  If parents elect to hold their children home due to inclement weather, the absence will be considered an excused absence.

Please make certain that your alert system information (Infinite Campus) is up to date as we rely on this system to communicate messages regarding school closures.  

Precipitation Related
Whenever extreme precipitation events are forecasted or under way, the Superintendent works directly with the transportation company, county road officials, and area school districts to determine what action needs to take place to ensure student safety. Although, area school districts are consulted, each district comes to their own conclusions based on local road conditions and visibility.

When possible, these decisions will be made in the evening prior to 10:00 pm. However, often times this cannot take place due to a variety of reasons. If decisions cannot be made the prior evening, we will strive to make the call by 6:15 am.

Weather announcements are delivered in the following formats listed in order of priority:
  1. Infinite Campus Messenger System (Please make certain that your alert system information is up to date)
  2. Social Media Networks (Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat)
  3. District Website
  4. Television News Stations
  5. Radio Stations

Flexible Learning Days

In Minnesota we are faced with having to make difficult decisions about whether to have school in session or close school due to inclement weather.  There are also times when other emergencies arise which necessitate a school closing decision.  With the recent adoption of our 1:1 technology and online access, we have decided to embark on a journey of Flexible Learning Days.  This document will highlight the definition of Flexible Learning Days and the various guidelines the district will use when conducting such days.
Flexible Learning Days are days in which learning can continue from home.  Meaning, if school is called off, our teachers can continue teaching and our students can continue learning from home.  By implementing this process we will have the ability to eliminate snow make-up days as teaching and learning will continue in times of inclement weather.
It is understood that students will have a wide variety of responsibilities at home during Flexible Learning Days and that some may not have access to the Internet.  Staff members understand these situations and will be flexible with those situations.  However, the expectation is that students complete the work in a timely manner as developed between each student and teacher.
High School Guidelines
Teachers understand that some of our high school students will have various responsibilities at home on days of weather emergencies, such as, looking after siblings, clearing driveways and others.  With that said, teachers will keep that in mind when developing tasks for the day of learning.
If school is cancelled, the plan will be to have all teachers post work by 10:00 am for the students they would have seen that day.  They have been asked to use Google Classroom so that students and families have only one place to look.  Google Classroom also provides a wonderful platform for posting materials students will need, for interaction, or for brief videos of content teachers would like delivered.  There may be rare exceptions where Google Classroom will not work for someone, so check email or teacher websites if nothing is up on Google Classroom.
Elementary School Guidelines
In preparation of school cancellations, elementary teachers will have four “Blizzard Bags” prepared to share with families at Open House.  These bags will have a variety of learning activities for the students to engage in while at home.  Teachers will also be available from 10:00 am until 3:30 pm for their students and/or families.  The students will be required to complete assignments in Reading/Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, and one other content of their choice (STEM, Music, Band, Physical Education).  These assignments should not last longer than approximately 20 minutes for each subject area.

In preparation for Emergency Flexible Learning Days, teachers have been asked to:

·      Anticipate time requirements recognizing students learn at different paces, especially in an independent setting.
·      Provide a timely plan, posting work for the day by 10:00 am
·      Be present on Google Classroom and email during the Flexible Learning Day
·      Plan for self-directed, independent learning with specific consideration to age and individual learning needs
·      Customize learning opportunities especially in troubleshooting student challenges
·      Communicate with colleagues to ensure common expectations, communications, and protocols
We sincerely appreciate your understanding and cooperation.  Should you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact me directly.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

More Hands Make for Light Work

Instructional Rounds

We’ve all heard the phrase, “more hands make for light work”. This is very true in a variety of life’s settings. In the world of education, working together in collaboration for the advancement of student learning and professional practice is important.
Here at JWP we are deeply committed to continuous improvement. We consistently look for ways to improve our professional practice in an effort to develop students to their full potential. One of those practices is the utilization of instructional rounds.

Twice per month a group of our teachers have an opportunity to visit six classrooms throughout the academic day. While in those classrooms they observe learning and instruction. Notes are collected and shared with one another. Items specifically addressed are the following: Planning and Preparation, The Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities. After the lesson our staff members debrief to develop reflective questions and constructive feedback.

Throughout the year every teacher has the opportunity to observe and be observed. Our teachers gain the experience of recognizing high quality instruction and student learning. From that experience, they are able to build their instructional toolboxes. This is a great example of collaboration in improving our craft! For an example schedule and in-depth look at our process and procedure, please visit the following link:

Friday, November 4, 2016

Pride, Delight, Satisfaction - The Bulldog Way!

JWP Football Team

We teach our students many things. I think many of you would agree with that statement. Today we had the opportunity to teach our students what it meant to have pride in something. This is one of those moments our students will be sure to remember for a lifetime.

About 400 people were gathered in our varsity gymnasium to send off some of our student athletes into competition. The first competition is this evening, Friday, November 4, 2016 when our Bulldog football team takes on Minnesota Valley Lutheran for the section championship. The second competition takes place on Saturday, November 5, 2016 when Kaden Cameron competes for the cross country state championship. The gymnasium was full of excitement and pride.

JWP Cheerleaders
What these students will remember for a lifetime is the camaraderie of their classmates, school and community. They will boast some day about how special it was to gather together to celebrate the accomplishments of their hard work and dedication. Quite frankly, they should spend time reflecting and admiring their work! Our entire student body and staff have worked hard to build pride in our school and community and their efforts have paid off. Congratulations to our students and best of luck to you all! 

JWP vs MVL - Jordan High School Football Field in Jordan, MN - Kickoff 7:00 pm.
Kaden Cameron Cross Country State Tournament - St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN - Starts at 10:00 am.

Coach Kehoe Recognizes Kaden Cameron

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

We all can learn from children! #ISD2835

Yes, children are energetic, enthusiastic, impressionable, and knowledgeable. We all can learn from children as we did recently from a 1st grader in Mrs. Leiferman's classroom. During a conversation in her classroom a student informed her that "Making mistakes is really ok. That is what makes your brain grow." This mindset is exactly what we are looking for in our students and staff!

We want all individuals to understand that our brain is capable of learning news things at all stages in our lives. Quite simply put, making a mistake allows the opportunity for your brain to grow. In essence, if we engage and support a growth mindset, we become committed to continuous improvement.

The key to this is to consistently model as adults this commitment for our students. Therefore, let me challenge all those reading this blog to the following questions:

1. How do you model a growth mindset for your students, children and others?
2. What specific example can you think of that modeled this growth mindset?
3. Think about the benefits you have realized by allowing your mind to grow and develop. How have these situations enhanced your development as a professional?
4. What can you do to help develop your growth mindset?
5. What is one thing you'll do tomorrow to model your commitment to a growth mindset for your students and/or children?

Making Sense of the Mission #ISD2835

"Our District will empower learning, energize achievement, and enhance community. 
Excellence without excuse!"

Bright lights, big city. The catch phrase. The moral of the story. The gusto. We've all heard these things before. Most organizations that exist or want to continue their existence have a mission statement, something that identifies their "it" factor. The Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District (JWP) is no different than most.

Successful organizations not only have a mission statement, they measure their success in attaining the intended meaning of the statement. Let's take a closer look at the JWP mission statement.

Empower Learning
At JWP we believe in empowering our students to learn. After all, this is a skill we hope they cherish and develop throughout their lifetime. We empower their learning by providing them with tools that can be utilized for learning 24 hours a day for roughly 265 days per year. In our district, the tool of choice is a Chromebook.

Throughout each school year, our teachers show them innovative ways to learn from a variety of resources both online and offline. The skills learned and mastered provide our students with ongoing opportunities to engage in learning opportunities. Empowered learning leads to continuous growth and success in our students.

Energize Achievement
Our teachers work hard to motivate students to put forth their best efforts and gain the most from learning opportunities. This motivation is typically inspired through consistent assessment and feedback. When students are able to track their growth and development in "real time", they tend to respond in positive ways. In many cases, we witness students celebrating the thrill of victory in accomplishing an academic goal.

Through our commitment to the Solution Tree Model of Professional Learning Communities, we strive to conduct frequent formative assessments to inform teaching and learning. It is our belief, that these assessments, coupled with feedback will provide the necessary motivation to energize achievement for our students.

Enhance Community
The JWP School District believes it is of utmost importance to ensure our students are provided with a safe and welcoming school environment. Our staff has worked relentlessly to provide such an environment.

Our Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program has provided a structure to ensure our students are recognized for their outstanding actions and achievements. PBIS has been a proactive approach to ensuring a positive school climate exists to enhance our school community.

JWP has worked tirelessly to ensure community partnerships were developed to further enhance and expand our school community. Our staff has worked to develop work-based experiences for several of our students. These real world applications support our students and community.

Excellence without Excuse
As you can see, our district believes in living out our mission statement. To learn more about how the JWP School Community lives their mission, please feel free to contact me directly (507.234.5181 or

"Our District will empower learning, energize achievement, and enhance community.
Excellence without excuse!"

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Committed School Board

From Left: Laura Seys, Kendra Hoehn, Shannon Asselin
The Minnesota School Board's Association (MSBA) conducts trainings for school board members throughout the state of Minnesota. MSBA breaks these trainings in to four different phases.

Phase I - This is an introduction to board member roles and responsibilities, the board/superintendent relationship, types of meetings and common scenarios.

Phase II - This training is required by state statute that includes finance, policies, personnel and significant laws.

Phase III - Explores building a high-performing school board with a focus on leadership styles, consensus building and policy development.

Phase IV - Focuses on community engagement, including a walk-through table-top exercise of how to set up a community engagement session in your community. The session also includes ideas and tools for communication with staff, students and constituents.

At the JWP School Board meeting on Monday, September 19, 2016 three of our board members were awarded Leadership Development Certificates from MSBA. Laura Seys, the late Dan Hoehn, and Shannon Asselin were provided these awards for their attendance at Phase I, II, and III trainings. Their commitment and dedication to the work of the school board is respected and appreciated.

School boards throughout the United States are charged with making important local decisions that will have a lasting impact on our youth. Being an educated board member is a key ingredient for district success. You can be assured that the JWP School Board is filled with educated and well informed members. Kudos to our board members!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Days to Cherish!

Yep, that is me in the photo above. This picture was taken on September 7, 1982 on my first day of kindergarten. By the crossed arms one might assume that I didn't want to go to school, didn't want my photo taken, didn't want to carry that goofy looking bag or was upset that my mom made me wear that awful shirt. However, if my memory serves me right, I didn't want to start "growing up" and wanted to stay home to play in the yard. Thankfully, I went to a school that embraced childhood, cherished me deeply, and fostered my growth academically, socially and emotionally. Those caring adults made the start to my new adventure memorable.

In about two weeks we'll welcome several students back to school. Each of these students bring a unique background and story through the schoolhouse gate. Parents, we want you to know that we strive each and every day to provide your students with an experience of a lifetime. Students, we want you to know that we cherish every moment with you and work hard to ensure you receive a "top notch" education. Community members, we want you to know that we appreciate your support and trust in doing the work we love to do. We are committed to all students regardless of background or story.

Having children in this district provides another vantage point to the beginning of the school year. This year I will have a senior, 7th grader, 2nd grader and 1st grader attending school. I can remember my mom telling me that the older you get the faster time goes by. Obviously, growing up, I didn't believe her. I just wanted to be 16, 18, 21, etc... and it seemed like forever to reach each milestone. Throughout time, mom was proven right again. Time does go by faster and faster as I age. Quite frankly, I don't like it!

So, why the title Days to Cherish? Here is why...
  1. We get one opportunity to educate each child in each stage of their educational journey.
  2. We get one opportunity to raise our children.
  3. We get one opportunity to see our children off to their very first day of school.
  4. We get one opportunity to see our children participate in athletics, fine arts and other ventures.
  5. We get one opportunity to help our children on their educational journey.
  6. We get one opportunity to guide our children throughout their junior high and senior high years.
  7. We get one opportunity to help our children through childhood conflicts.
  8. We get one opportunity to steer our children through the complexities of adolescence.
  9. We get one opportunity to see our children through high school graduation.
  10. We get one opportunity to live this life.
(you can insert your own)

Days to betcha!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Disrupting Learning at #ISD2835

For years people have been talking about reforming education and changing the way we do business. There have been legislative talks at both the federal and state levels, however, there is typically little reform supported. Instead, those legislative conversations turn to accountability and sanctions. This year, instead of waiting for legislative reform, the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District will embark on local conversations of disrupting learning to positively impact our students for a lifetime.

Over the past school year the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District engaged in several discussions around personalized learning. Questions posed were:

What does this look like for our school district?
Who will be involved in this work?
How will it impact our students?
What financial resources may be needed for such an endeavor?
What action steps are needed?

Truth be told, we did not have the answers to any of those questions. In a personalized learning environment those questions are answered in development. This can be scary for many. I, like many others, prefer to see what is ahead and have a clear understanding of what is needed to be done. Personalized learning is developed with each individual student in mind in the development of learning plans.

This is in stark contrast to traditional methods that include teaching to the middle. In that setting, students that struggle with content can be left behind. In a similar vein, those that are accelerated learners are not often challenged enough. I am happy to state that our staff have worked relentlessly to ensure those things did not happen. However, "the system" did not provide our staff with a solid foundation in which to work from.

The conversations over the next year in our school district will develop a framework in which all students are provided with what they need and when they need it along their learning journey. This is sure to be a challenging process, yet, excellence is not something that happens over night or attained easily. We have to make this happen. We will make this happen. For our kids!

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Faults of a Headline

On Tuesday, August 9, 2016 the Waseca County News released the article, JWP Handbook changes involve less emphasis on winning. Unfortunately, many individuals admittedly did not read the article but developed their own insinuations about the content. I felt it was the right time and opportunity to write a blog about the real intent of the change.

Let's make it very clear now, the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District does value winning and believes it is important. However, we also understand that there is much more to winning than the final outcome. Let's explore one example...

A wrestler starts out their career in junior high with no prior experience. This individual begins the sport with the intent to build friendships and become an improved wrestler. At this point, there is no long term goal of winning a state championship or making the varsity. However, like all other young competitors, this individual latched on to an upperclassman that was having success. This junior high wrestler decides that he too wants to be successful. He begins watching the upperclassman and talking to his coaches. The wrestler is shown what it takes to become the upperclassman and is coached the fundamentals and practices of becoming a successful wrestler. In this wrestler's freshman year, he wins a spot on the varsity and finishes the season 8-14. There are two ways to look at this.
  1. This wrestler lost and did not win which defines the year as unsuccessful.
  2. This wrestler made some gains from his 6th grade year of wrestling and secured a spot on the varsity in three short years. In addition, he had earned eight more wins than anticipated. This wrestler is developing and with continued work, will experience future success.
The coaches work with the wrestler asking these questions. What did you do that helped you progress to where you are at today? What may you need to do to continue your growth and development? Ultimately, the coaches help the wrestler understand what it takes to get better and to clearly understand that, "champions are made when no one is watching." We continue to follow this wrestler and after each loss, this same conversation takes place. In addition to each loss, comes a learning experience. In the sophomore campaign the wrestler ends up with a 23-9 record and third place in the section tournament just missing qualifying for the state tournament. The two wrestlers that placed ahead of him in the section tournament go on to place 2nd and 4th in the state tournament. Again, we can look at this in one of two ways.
  1. This wrestler lost and did not win which defines the year as unsuccessful.
  2. This wrestler made some great gains from last season and nearly made the state tournament. This wrestler is making progress and understands what it takes to win. The year was a success.

In an effort to save time, this wrestler continues his work and does more when no one else is watching. His junior year ends at 32-6 with a 4th place finish in the state tournament. Again, not a state champion, but continued growth and progress occurs. This wrestler's senior year campaign ended at 38-1 with the only loss coming in the state championship match. Again, one could look at this as a failed season. Because I did, I was devastated. That is right, this is my story. However, I had a great coach that approached me in my state of misery and said, "Bill there are things in life that will happen to you that you will not like, but you need to find a positive way to deal with them. How are you going to choose to respond to this?" Those words were powerful and were the key to my development as a human being.

Although I did not win the state championship, I clearly understood what it took to be successful in the sport of wrestling and in life. As a district, we want to place an emphasis on the value of competition and the process to be successful.  This will instill lifelong skills in our students to use for the rest of their lives. If we focus only on winning, we are missing the point and failing our students. I hope this clears things up a bit. Reading beyond the headline is important!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

It is a Journey, Not a Destination - A Leaders Work

Let's be honest. We've all heard the phrases, "This too shall pass" or "We just need to get this implemented." Although the individuals that have used these phrases had good intentions, it isn't what we should be saying in education. We need to think with development in mind so that we promote and engage continuous improvement.

The picture above is of my oldest daughter and three of her friends on the Donner Trail during the 2015 Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton History Trip. These four young ladies were about to set out on a journey of a lifetime. They were prepared to climb obstacles, enjoy the descents, maneuver rough terrain and overcome fears. It is the learning from this journey that has formed future responses to life's challenges. After all, life is a journey.

When school districts implement the following initiatives:
  • Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
  • Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) 
  • Daily 5
  • Response to Intervention
  • Insert your initiatives...
They often get lost in the premise of the programs, systems, ideas, etc... Instead of focusing on the implementation process, steps, and "the end", districts need to focus on refinement and improvement. Learning organizations emphasize the need to improve current best practices and programming to improve student learning. These same organizations also understand the importance of eliminating ineffective programs as new ones enter.

Our hopes and dreams of our students is that they look at the journey, like the Donner Trail, as a life changing experience in the building of knowledge. This knowledge will provide them with appropriate future responses for each new situation they encounter. Ideally, in the end they will be, well equipped to handle life's obstacles, better decision makers, and contributing citizens.

This is where leadership is so important. As leaders we need to assist in the shift from, "This too shall pass" to "How can we improve this for kids?" I would like to propose the following process of the educational journey.
  • Evaluate current practice. 
    • What are you currently doing? 
    • How is it being done? 
    • What data do you have to support your argument? 
    • What is current affective data of the practice?
  • Make information rich decisions.
    • What does the information say about student effectiveness? 
      • If results are positive, what can you do to strengthen the offering? 
      • If not, can the process be eliminated or improved?
  • Implementation of the identified systems Kotter & Rathgeber, 200%).
    • Create Urgency - What information do you have that supports change?
    • Create a Guiding Team - Pull together those that will develop a process for change.
    • Create a Vision - What is the new culture being developed?
    • Communicate the Vision - Inform all stakeholders.
    • Empower Action - All others to do work. Provide strengths based objectives.
    • Create Quick Wins - Celebrate short and long term successes.
    • Build on the Change - Continue the process of change.
    • Embrace the New Culture - Continuously evaluate the process and improve.
Following this process will provide favorable conditions on the learning journey! Teaching and learning is a journey, not a destination!

Kotter, J. & Rathgeber, H. (2005). Our iceberg is melting: Changing and succeeding under any conditions. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.

Friday, July 22, 2016

AASA PD Impacts #ISD2835

From July 18, 2016 through July 21, 2016 I was humbled, challenged, inspired and energized to improve my own professional practice in an effort to move the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton learning organization forward. The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) supports a certification program for superintendents looking to improve their skill set while attaining national certification as a school superintendent. This program attracts educational leaders throughout the United States. The diversity of the participants presents an optimal learning opportunity. I am fortunate to call the members of this group my colleagues and friends.

This week our learning was facilitated by Dr. Vince Matthews, California State Administrator for the Inglewood Unified School District. Our learning this week encapsulated the following topics:

1. Transforming Learning Organizations
2. Personalized Learning
3. Creating Partnerships (Political, Community, Business, and Others)
4. Technology Leadership
5. Leading Equity and Equality

Each of these areas of leadership are essential tools in leading organizations for change. On Wednesday, July 20th, 2016 Dr. Devin Vodicka, Superintendent of the Vista Unified School District lead conversations focused on 21st Century Leadership. One of the pieces he shared with us was the following video clip.

In this video it becomes clear that the 4Cs are at work with the Panyee Football Club. The 4Cs include: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. Take some time to view the video and answer the following questions.

1. How are these children using creativity to achieve their goals?
2. In what ways are these children using collaboration to achieve a common goal?
3. Critical thinking is an important skill. How are these children displaying critical thinking skills?
4. What communication skills are at play throughout this video clip?

At Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton we strive to encourage and engage the 4Cs of 21st Learning. We hope to develop creative students who possess effective communication, collaboration and critical thinking skills so that they may thrive in the 21st century!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Facilities Improvement

Proposed Layout & Improvements

The Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District has been in consistent discussions regarding the improvements of our athletic complex.  The existing complex was constructed in the early 1970's and has more than served its purpose.  It is time to provide the necessary improvements so that the students and communities can continue to enjoy the facilities for an additional 50 years.

With this decision there are many factors to consider, such as the following:

  • Funding of the Project
  • Field Surface
  • Track Size (Eight Lane vs Nine Lane)
  • Available Space
  • Parking Surface
  • Timeline
This list is not all-inclusive as there are several other items to consider.  With that said, important decisions are to be made.  The Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School Board is carefully considering all options and will be looking to put together an advisory committee to provide feedback and insight.  If you are interested in being on this committee, please feel free to contact the District Office at 507.234.5181, extension 5. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Start at the Center!

In October, 2015 I had the fortunate opportunity to attend the Personalized Learning Institute sponsored by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and School Improvement Network (SINET).  The event was filled with opportunities to discuss personalizing education for all students.  Several superintendents throughout the country were in attendance to learn from experts and to share their stories of personalized education.

From May 9th through May 11th I experienced the second Personalized Learning Institute.  This opportunity deepened my understanding of personalized learning and developed further ideas in terms of what this may look like at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton. In an effort to provide stakeholders a view of this experience, I created stories via my Storify account.  You can view these experiences via the following links:

Day 1 -
Day 2 -
Day 3 -

During my time at the Institute I had the opportunity to chat with Roger Cook, Superintendent of Taylor County Schools in Kentucky. His district has been practicing personalized learning for the past 11 years.  With all of that said, we will be taking a crew of 12 stakeholders to Taylor County to experience their Personalized Learning Institute in June. The following individuals will be making the trip:

Bill Adams - Superintendent
Jeremy Erler - Principal
Kevin Babcock - Principal
Mike Skinner - Teacher
Eric Kehoe - Teacher
Jessica Keech - Teacher
Sharyn Miller - Teacher
Melanie Morrow - Teacher
Tim Oelke - School Board Member
Kelly Eustice - School Board Member
Laura Seys - School Board Member
Dan Hoehn - School Board Member

To learn more about this trip, please click here.

To gain a further understanding of personalized learning our administrative team has completed reading an outstanding book entitled, Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning by Dr. James Rickabaugh.  This book provided excellent resources for the development of the personalized learning philosophy.  There were outstanding reflective questions provided accompanied by suggestions for action plans.

The "Honeycomb Approach" was something that struck a chord with me.  Through this approach, there is a focus placed on the learner through learner profiles, customized learning paths, and proficiency-based progress.  The next ring of the honeycomb is that of teaching and learning followed by relationships and roles and capped off with structures and policies.  It is important to begin in the center and work our way towards the outer rings as opposed to working from the outside in.  When all put together, an extraordinary learning opportunity occurs for all students.

Please stay tuned to future blog posts regarding our personalized learning discussions.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Balance Between Creativity and Achievement

Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th president of the United States of America ("Lyndon B. Johnson", 2015).  In 1965 he signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  The U.S. Department of Education states that President Johnson's premise of this act was to ensure a full educational opportunity was our first national goal (  Since 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has provided districts throughout the United States financial assistance through grants.  These grants were provided to districts that served low-income and special needs students (  This was the original deed that put accountability of United States schools on the map and legislation from this point has been a manifestation of this act.  The accountability measure being utilized for comparison purposes was that of worldwide student achievement (

Further education concerns in the United States began with the authoring of A Nation at Risk in 1983.  This publication asserted that schools throughout the United States were failing.  The report highlighted various studies that supported students in the United States were under achieving on national and international scales.  A Nation at Risk ignited reform efforts throughout public schools receiving federal funds in an effort to increase achievement (United States, 1983).

In 2002, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reauthorized with bipartisan support.  The name given was No Child Left Behind.  This reauthorization was under the guidance of President George Walker Bush.  President Bush intended to eliminate the achievement gap among underserved groups of students.  The No Child Left Behind legislation ramped up accountability on all District's served with federal funds (  This accountability included the implementation of statewide assessments that measured student achievement in a disaggregated format.  The disaggregation of the data provided comparison measures of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and disability (  Achievement results were to be reported to the public after data was released.

Although accountability has its place, opponents have consistently applied pressure on legislatures to eliminate assessment requirements of these legislative actions.  On December 10, 2015 the United States signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act.  This reauthorization of ESEA had some appropriate adjustments, however, it did not go far enough to bring into balance two important components of a child's education, achievement AND creativity.

For a look at comparative data between ESSA and NCLB, click here.

The federal government and citizens of the United States have applied extreme focus on accountability since 1965.  Starting in 2002 that focus was applied to standardized assessments.  In Minnesota, students take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments each spring.  The final results of these assessments arrive in districts the following fall.  School districts throughout the State are then "graded" on their achievement results and progress.  Parents and community members are provided the results through website postings, newspaper articles and mailings.  Although accountability and communication are important, it is my firm belief that we need to reprioritize for our students' sake.  In an effort to save you time from further reading, I have provided bullet points below in support of my argument for efficiency purposes:

- We need to move from one test for accountability to a system of balanced assessments that inform instruction and track growth.
- We need to move from a heavy focus on achievement data to a balanced blend of creativity, rigor, and results.
- We need to move from academic rich preschool environments to engaged play based classroom instruction and learning.
- We need to move from the regurgitation of facts to sustained learning.
- We need to move from the factory model of education to a personalized practice.
- We need to move from highlighting student achievement only to the development of the whole child.
- We need to move from isolation to sustained collaboration and connectivity.
- We need to move from skepticism of public education to trusting our well prepared and motivated teachers and administrators.
- We need to move to a balanced system of creativity and achievement.

Obviously we want to ensure our students learn at high levels and leave our schools exceptionally prepared to enter college or careers.  However, I believe this can be achieved by balancing our systems to ensure all students are provided with what they need.  If we can partner in this effort to transform our educational practice, I believe the students at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton will be eternally grateful for the education we provided them.

The video below was prepared by Sir Ken Robinson and is a nice depiction of current systems of reality in the United States.  This video is a bit lengthy (11 minutes and 41 seconds) but well worth the time.  Enjoy!

Here are some other interesting pieces to consider: