This week, I have found myself overcome with joy around all that there is to celebrate. Some of these celebrations are bigger than others, some are smaller, but all will be delights that will energize me for some time. My writing this week reminds me of a blog that I enjoy reading. Dean Shareski shares his thoughts around joy in his Delight Project, which he launched in May of 2020. To date, Dean has written about 21 “Delights,” ranging anywhere from his grandchildren to finding golf balls. Although I’m not launching a Delight Project of my own, I’m thankful to Dean for being the source of inspiration in finding, delighting in, and celebrating the joy that surrounds us.
I’ll start with an article that had me literally jumping up and down for joy in my kitchen on Friday morning. I was searching the Curriculum Matters site for, well, a quick explanation about why curriculum matters. During that search, I came across a blog written by Kelly Schofield, Elementary Director of Teaching and Learning for Des Moines Public Schools. In the article and accompanying video, Kelly describes the journey that their district has undergone while implementing the EL Education curriculum. The experience is identical to ours in FMCSD, including the initial resistance, regrets in the rollout, struggles, and (finally!) successes. After reading and watching, I promptly shared the article with all of our K-8 staff and administration, knowing that they would appreciate the connections, shared experiences, and a district not so very far from us. I also promptly reached out to Kelly to thank her for sharing her experience… and she replied right away! There is much to celebrate with these connections and potential collaborations. Our mirrored experiences are a reminder to:
The day before stumbling across Kelly’s article, our PLC (Professional Learning Community) meetings began with two 6th grade teachers, Misty Koser and Jill Ralph, who were celebrating the work their students produced on a common formative assessment. Their students were responding to a prompt where they were to cite evidence from the complex text they were reading as a class. The writing blew us away! It looked like the writing that we might have expected from 8th graders in May, rather than 6th grader on September 1st! There is much to celebrate here: 1) our teachers are truly operating as collaborative teams, 2) our teachers are celebrating students and other teachers: these two 6th grade teachers were singing the praises of the teachers of earlier grades, 3) we are starting to see the importance of having a guaranteed and viable curriculum in place, as described by Solution Tree’s Learning by Doing, and 4) our students will be reaping the benefits for years to come from having said curriculum in place. Curriculum absolutely matters.
Speaking of those PLC meetings… I was able to sit on many this week, and was overjoyed to see and hear the collaboration taking place, despite the struggles we are dealing with around the many changes in our district. Teachers were unpacking standards to reach a deeper understanding of what is expected of students, teachers were sharing approaches to instruction that have led to successful outcomes, and teachers were sharing their hopes for continued growth for themselves as much as for their students. In addition, teachers were brave enough to be vulnerable and share their trepidations and concerns around everything from schedules to feeling incompetent.
There is also much to celebrate in the administration at FMCSD. Our principals are all operating in new posts (new buildings and new responsibilities) this school year. In addition to everything else that comes with being an administrator, these folks are handling a whole new host of changes, and they are doing so with much resilience. I have witnessed their bravery in being vulnerable and sharing their struggles; they have repeatedly asked for staff feedback, they have admitted mistakes, they have thanked their staff repeatedly, they have admitted feeling like they are in a “slump,” they have reached our for help, and they have celebrated their staff and students.
As much as, or more than, the celebrations around our teaching staff and administration, are the celebrations that go to our “frontline” and “behind-the-scenes” employees: our custodial staff, transportation department, teacher associates, and secretarial staff. These are the people that keep our district running. These are the people that get to shoulder many complaints and do so with much resolve. These are the people who often get to see our students first, and greet them with bright smiles and welcoming words. These people are the heart and soul of our district, and deserve much praise and celebration.
The past two weeks have brought about many, many requests for help and support with our reading curriculum, from both new and veteran teachers. This brings me pure and unadulterated joy: it is the work that I LOVE doing! I am proud of our new teachers for not being hesitant in reaching out, and for asking questions that clearly show how committed they are to doing things “right” and supporting our students. I am proud of our veteran teachers for doing the very same thing, and for not letting their years of teaching experience get in the way of reaching out for help and support. I ended my week sitting in a first grade classroom with a veteran teacher who is never hesitant to reach out for help, and who continually works to improve her craft. Our conversations led to deeper understanding for both of us! Thank you, Deb!
Friday night, I was able to listen to the celebrations of one our new staff members, a veteran teacher, whom we were able to snag from a neighboring district. In listening to Dala, I learned that her team of 5th grade teachers has gone above and beyond to welcome her with open arms. They stay connected outside of school hours, they share ideas and collaborate regularly, and they have made a commitment to establishing strong relationships with their students through the use of community circles, a practice shared with us by the amazing team at Four Oaks. In addition, they are addressing Social and Emotional Learning by educating their students about the effects of trauma, the brain science around trauma, and the skills we can build to work through the effects of trauma.
Our coaching staff received a copy of the book Changeable by J. Stuart Ablon, PhD sometime last year. The goal was to engage in a book study, but as goes with some things, the book study has been set aside. With the encouragement of two other instructional coaches who have jumped into the book, I started reading it this week. Wowza! I’m hooked, and look forward to enjoying each and every page of the book. As described on the jacket cover, “Changeable presents a radical new way of thinking about challenging and unwanted behavior – Collaborative Problem Solving – that builds empathy, helps others reach their full potential, and most of all, really works.” My favorite paragraph from the book, so far, comes from Chapter One, Skill Not Will, “‘if you give a dog a name, eventually he’ll answer to it’. If you tell misbehaving people that they’re bad – lazy, unmotivated, purposely difficult, deserving of punishment-they’ll start to believe that, and they’ll start to look, talk, and act like lazy, unmotivated people who are purposely difficult and deserving of punishment. They’ll lose any drive to change or improve. However, if you tell a misbehaving person that everyone is working on something, and that we all struggle with certain thinking skills we need to handle daily life, she won’t feel demonized or demoralized. She’ll see a path open in front of her and feel optimistic that she is able to change her life for the better.” After reading this, I can’t help but think of the following wisdom from a six-year old:
After some prodding and encouragement, my friend and colleague, Clint Kobelt, has launched a blog of his own. Clint is our building trades instructor at Fort Madison High School. In addition to creating an amazing trades program, Clint has served as a mentor for my three boys, as well as countless other students. Clint has a unique perspective on life, and is finally sharing that perspective in his blog. In his most recent post, The Evolution of Building Fence, Clint draws some great analogies, and ends with this: “Maybe that’s what people mean when they talk about being present. Requiring yourself to give 100% of your attention to a single moment in time, with the only requirement being that you find the very best that moment has to give you.” Becky, thanks for getting that husband of yours to finally put “pen to paper!”
The Kruse Boys
Our three boys continue to be the source of MUCH pride and joy. At age 20, Elton is growing his business, Kruse Concrete Construction like a champ (and in turn, his business is growing him)! He is learning the ins and outs of keeping clients happy, maintaining an insane schedule, maintaining equipment… or expressing much gratitude to his dad who is the true maintenance guy, maintaining bookwork, and managing reliable help, as well as not-so-reliable help.
Owen, at age 18, is becoming a bit of a jack-of-all-trades at Mohrfeld Electric, where he will begin an electrical apprenticeship in the coming months. Last night, Bill and I were able to hear about Owen’s work ethic, willingness to do any job put in front of him, and his all-around good character. One of Owen’s supervisors was kind enough to share this with us, and expressed his appreciation for Owen signing on with Mohrfeld Electric. We couldn’t be more proud!
Emmett, at age 16, is trying his hand at football for the 2nd year in a row. As a junior in high school, he is fortunate to be part of a football program under the direction of Derek Doherty, that is seeing much success. The team enjoyed their second win of the season Friday night, and is bound to see much more success as the season unfolds. Emmett recognizes that he won’t see much playing time on the Varsity squad, but is committed to putting forth 110% effort for the team. His quick wit and humor continue to be a source of delight in the Kruse household.
Bill Kruse continues to be the source of much encouragement for these three boys. Whenever we receive compliments about the boys, I can’t help but think that most of that praise is credited to their dad. He is the hardest working person I know, and has a much softer heart than his tough exterior let’s on. He expresses his gratitude and love toward me with frequency and sincerity; he is truly a terrific human being, who I am blessed to share this life with. My family rounds out this week of celebrations.