Monday, February 15, 2016

What Can Educators Learn From Lincoln?

GUEST BLOGGER:  Dr. Kim Ehrhardt,
Director of Curriculum and Instruction and Assessment
and excerpt from Joel Hirsch  

As a former history teacher, I always worked hard to make history relevant to my students.  I actively spent a lot of time making meaning of the content we were exploring together and making the case for historical literacy.  Listed below is a commentary that I recently read that was written by fellow educator, Joel Hirsch concerning the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and what he might say to us today.

Abraham Lincoln presided over the most tumultuous period in United States history, blazed a path for freedom and human dignity, and shaped a new vision for a still-young union. Even now, 151 years after his death, Abraham Lincoln looms larger than life, a man who, according to former British prime minister David Lloyd George, "was such a giant figure that he loses his nationality in death." What can 21st-century educators learn from a 19th-century president?

That is the subject of Harvey Alvy and Pamela Robbins' thoughtful book, Learning from Lincoln, a study of leadership practices that educators can glean from the life of our 16th president. Lincoln's artful but painful career in public service is distilled into lessons on honing emotional intelligence and empathy; communicating with clarity and conviction; and implementing and sustaining a personal vision. Through an analysis of pivotal events in his presidency as well as his public and private pronouncements, the authors reveal a side of Lincoln that educators would do well to emulate within and beyond the classroom. Here are some of my favorites:

Demonstrating Restraint

Great educators know how to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way. That’s not just an instructional credo, but a mantra for dealing with difficult situations -- uncooperative students, miscalculating supervisors, incorrigible parents.

Lincoln dealt with a long line of people, adversaries and supporters alike, who at some point or another managed to personally disparage, disappoint, or disillusion him. Lincoln took to writing his enemies long missives in which he blasted them for their foolishness, hubris, and unmitigated lack of effort. He folded these letters into envelopes, signed and stamped each one, and then buried them in a drawer, never again to touch the light of day or a postmaster's delivery wagon. Following the Battle of Gettysburg, believing that his own General Meade could have crippled the Confederate army by pursuing Lee's vanquished troops, Lincoln composed a heated letter to Meade:

Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with other late successes, have ended the war. . . Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.

Building Trust

Lincolnesque educators trust their students and get their students to trust one another. That trust is built on shared expectations and common values that dictate everyday interactions. It is based on the belief that an ethos of personal responsibility is more powerful than a culture of fear and repercussion. Teachers who successfully foster this culture of trust can be assured that their students will do right, even when they aren’t looking. For example, following a meeting that ran overtime, I returned to class nearly ten minutes after the students had re-entered the room from recess. But instead of seeing a classroom in chaos, I found students busily at work on a long-term project that they kept on standby. That's trust forged from personal responsibility. A similar process unfolds every time students work in collaborative groups with only intermittent contact from the teacher. There’s a measure of trust that hangs in the air, a shared belief that students will rise to claim a better version of themselves if the teacher shows them how to reach it.

Trust and loyalty mattered deeply to Lincoln, especially to those closest to him. On February 11, 1861, Lincoln departed from Springfield for Washington to assume the presidency in March. He had moved to Springfield in 1837, at the formative age of 28. Twenty-four years later, as he prepared to leave his adopted hometown, unsure of his return, he declared:

My friends -- no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feelings of sadness at this parting. To this place and to the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived for a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well.

The Power of Predictability and Presence

Throughout his presidency, Lincoln stuck to a fairly regimented schedule. He arose at 6 a.m. each morning and ate a breakfast of coffee and eggs, read new summaries prepared by his secretaries, and then reviewed and signed documents and memos until 10AM. He held cabinet meetings twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, usually in the mid-afternoon. At 4 p.m., a carriage pulled up to the White House portico to take the president and first lady for a drive and a brief respite from the daily grind of politics. Beyond the predictability of his schedule, Lincoln sought to create a public presence and air of accessibility for constituents. Every morning during his first year in office, Lincoln made himself available for what he called "public opinion baths," an open forum for citizens to ask about his policies, challenge him on his positions, or convey to him their concerns. Lincoln's aides, most notably his chief of staff John Hay, objected to these unwieldy encounters, filled often by autograph seekers or well-wishers.  But Lincoln felt adamant that he remain visible and accessible to the people.

Teachers hold a different type of public office, but they are no less accountable to their constituents. In the course of a day, teachers interact with students, dialogue with parents, collaborate with colleagues, and report to supervisors. They set learning agendas, define performance goals, and monitor progress. Learning that is predictable is not necessarily rigid or impervious to innovation. Predictability -- in classroom expectations, learning designs, and measures of learning -- can actually provide the type of stability that leads to productivity and growth. And when teachers communicate student achievement -- or, in today's digital landscape, construct online portals that make learning universal -- they are following Lincoln’s example of creating a public presence that draws people in.

As a nation on Monday, February 15, we celebrate Presidents' Day, which officially marks the birthday of George Washington but arrives just days after Lincoln's own birthday. As educators, we would do well to recall the lessons from a president who stands as large today as he did then.


Mr. Hirsch has taught middle school students at Akiba Academy of Dallas since 2006. He developed curricula for and facilitated an online certificate program in differentiated instruction at Yeshiva University, where he is currently pursuing doctoral studies. A recognized teacher leader, Joe has led workshops and training sessions for teachers, administrators and policy makers nationwide, and received a First Choice Power award for creating innovative character education. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Educational Leadership, and other leading publications. His first book, "Audible: Feedback at Full Volume," will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2017.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Operation Holiday Cards and the Chinese New Year

Guest Blogger - Kevin Miller 
Supervisor of the Janesville International Education Program

The Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations took place this week and in honor of this holiday, our local schools celebrated the culture with parades and other activities.  One particular event that the School District of Janesville (SDJ) sponsored to help commemorate this holiday is “Operation Holiday Cards,” a collaborative effort between some SDJ Elementary Schools and their Sister Schools in China. 

To provide some background, over three years ago the SDJ embarked on a quest to enhance international education program by recruiting F-1 tuition paying students.  Teachers and administrators from the SDJ were invited to participate in educational conferences and sister school relationships with elementary, middle and high schools began to develop.  Initially, SDJ offered Summer Institutes in order to invite partners to Janesville to visit our schools and has since generated greater interest to create stronger collaborative relationships by implementing school year activities or communication exchanges.

This year, I have visited with the Zhangjiagang and Nanjing Departments of Education to discover how best to strengthen the ties between the sister schools and from those conversations “Operation Holiday Cards” developed.  Prior to the winter break SDJ sister schools prepared cards representing our winter holidays, and once other schools and teachers learned of the project, they wanted to participate as well. In the end, Chinese language departments, full elementary classes, art departments, and ELL students created beautiful holiday cards that were mailed to our partner sister schools in China.

In early January, we began receiving emails and WECHATs (the preferred mode of communication in China) showing us the effect that the cards had on the students in China.  For the Chinese language students in SDJ and the English language students in China it was “authentic learning.”  For all other students it was a chance to see each other’s art and culture.  For the ELL students it was a way to connect to students from across the globe with a common thread of English as a second language. This project became newsworthy in Zhangjiagang, China.  They published the art of the Janesville students and showed pictures of the students with their art from both schools.

The goal was American/Chinese educational cooperation and cultural awareness learning about important holidays.  One of the schools that went to the next level was Wanhong Elementary School in Zhangjiagang.  They sent a large package of art, cards and scrolls with email addresses, WECHAT addresses and questions.

On Tuesday, February 9th, the Harrison Elementary 5th grade students opened up the package sent to them containing oil paintings, watercolor paintings, a large scroll for the school, as well as various types of creative art using Styrofoam, glue, and paint. There were also large posters to collaborate on centered around protecting our planet through global cooperation.

This type of activity solidifies the relationship between schools. The Chinese sister schools involved in this project have been invited to attend an English Language Summer Institute held in Janesville this summer that will involve Chinese, Korean, and Mexican students.  High School students will also be invited to participate in the F-1 tuition paying student program the SDJ offers.

The project has been inspiring and heartwarming as the collaboration on both sides helped to bring the opportunity for authentic language proficiency, cultural awareness and collaboration, and ultimately lasting friendships with students across the globe.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Successful P4J Enrollment and Development Days!

Angela Lynch, Preschool 4 Janesville (P4J) Coordinator; 
Culturally Responsive Practices Coordinator; and,
Family Resource Center (FRC) Coordinator

We had an exciting week at the Educational Services Center (ESC) this week! Child Development Days was held along with P4J enrollment. 

Each year Child Development Days offers families with children 2 ½ -5 years of age an opportunity to have their child screened if they have concerns about their development. We are able to identify children with delays and disabilities and refer them for the supports they may need. This year we screened 88 children. Eleven of those children are being referred for further evaluation. 

P4J enrollment also began on February 1st for the 2016-17 school year. Families are able to come to enroll their children that will turn 4 before September 1 of 2016 for our P4J 4-yr-old Kindergarten program. Families come this early to secure a spot at the P4J site of their choice. We have 21 P4J sites available for families to choose from. By the end of the day on Friday, February 5th we had 278 children enrolled for next school year. 

Special thanks to:

Tracy Schenk for her proactive leadership with Child Development Days; Cindi Seichter, Sherry Rautenberg, Peggy Karleski, Stacey Jordan, Isabel Hernandez, and Gayle Holcomb for their outstanding assistance with the enrollment of the 278 P4J students; all of the other ESC secretaries that jumped in to help out with enrollment; and Alberto Cervantes for his many hours of assistance with interpretation for our families that speak Spanish as their first language. 

We would also like to thank Birth-to-3 and Head Start for participating in our Child Development Days. In addition we’d like to thank Jesus Cervantes and Karla Snyder for interpreting for our Spanish speaking families. Also, a thank you goes out to our Early Childhood and P4J teachers as well as our Speech and Language Pathologists for assisting with Child Development Days screenings. It was a tremendous week!

It's not too late!

If you missed this week’s events, don't worry, it is never too late for enrollment or development screenings!  Please feel free to enroll your student for the P4J program anytime during normal business hours, Monday through Friday from 7:30am-4:30pm (summer hours are different) at the Educational Services Center downtown Janesville or call 608-743-5153.  For questions or appointments for developmental screenings please call Tracy Schenk at 608-743-5043.  We look forward to seeing you!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What Does 21st Century Learning Look Like?

Nicole Andresen, Innovative Learning Specialist

Virtual Lessons bring the world to the classroom and open new windows to the outside for our students.  This week, first graders at Jefferson Elementary were able to speak virtually with instructors from the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California. They received instruction about the African Penguin from one of the academy’s experts and witnessed the Penguins swimming live.

A couple weeks prior to this lesson, first graders received a stuffed penguin in the mail requesting special care for him.  They immediately began researching and designing a penguin habitat suitable for him at Jefferson.

The students' research assisted them with specific questions they had about penguins and during the virtual lesson with the expert, students were able to ask and receive answers to their questions.  The teachers and I were so impressed at the fabulous questions the students asked our virtual expert! The information gleaned provided some great information for the continuation of our penguin unit. 

This was one of the most effective virtual lessons I've conducted. The degree of interaction and the level of knowledge that the presenter was able to communicate completely benefited our students and reinforced the teaching they had already been receiving in class. Each student was engaged as they listened, answered, and even demonstrated penguin habits like waddling and swimming.  The greatest moment came when one of our students, who rarely spoke in kindergarten, stood up and asked a question of the presenter. Such an amazing experience!

The types of experiences are a part of 21st Century Learning. These connections made through video conferencing tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, Cisco Jabber help to expand the learning environment by offering students a virtual window to a real world outside of their community.  

Content for these virtual lessons can be chosen to align with your curriculum and enrich the lessons with relevancy. With virtual connections, you eliminate time and distance.  You are able to tap into experts in that subject matter.  Students become more engaged and the relevancy solidifies the retention of information and content.

The people and places that can be accessed and leveraged using these types of connections are numerous.  Places like NASA and Yellowstone National Park have staff and content dedicated to educational presentations and experiences.  These connections allow teachers to create new experiences that, in the past, were not possible for some students. This technology is redefining the learning experiences of our students.

Think about how you could open windows to the world, right from your classroom by speaking with marine biologists, professors, authors, scientists, archaeologists, mathematicians, actors, athletes, and more. Teachers, talk to your Innovation Specialist or look for classes to be posted on My Learning Plan. Parents, talk to your student's teacher about opportunities you may be aware of to offer virtual lessons.