Teacher Appreciation Week: Open Letter to my Core Teachers

Dear Core Teachers: Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! I deeply appreciate the teachers, humans, thinkers, and learners that you are. You are amazing — and, frankly, I am humbled by the pure awesomeness of you.

And you truly are awesome!

Why are teachers awesome? Because “they can all see the person that we can become someday” (Kid President). Please take a moment (okay, 3:30) to watch this short video clip and reflect on how incredibly awesome you are. Come on. Please 🙂

I think you’re awesome, too. You are awesome for many reasons. But here are three that I am currently thinking about.

1. You care deeply about your teaching craft and you commit long hours to daily becoming the best version of yourself. I saw this in your workshop comments last year, Reflective Notebook entries — and the emails you share with me this year.

2. You care deeply about your colleagues and you’ve shared your ideas, grapplings, and new learnings with them. You’ve invited them to participate in the Core Teacher Program this last year — as well as next year.

3. You care deeply about your students and you create the best lessons, provide the best feedback, and daily nurture your learners. You want them to become the best versions of themselves.

The end of the school year is a hectic and crazy time. We are all stressed and worried. Now more than ever is our commitment to academic excellence, loving care, and genuine nurturing essential for the well-being of those we teach. Our at-risk students, in particular, feel the stress of the coming summer. Where will they be living? Who will they be living with? Will they get fed? Your daily commitment to routine, expectations for academic achievement, and pure joy for being able to spend the day or the hour with them means more than you can ever know. You are the bright spot in so many lives.

As we move into the last weeks of school, resist the temptation to count down days. Your students need to know that you are dreading the last day of school. That they matter. That you will truly miss them.

And, seriously? I have missed seeing you this year.

Thank you for taking the time to read this email. I know it’s long. But it’s from my heart. Thank you for being you. You are so important and I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity to know and work with you. I am humbled.

Much love & appreciation,


Apply for Core Teacher Program: Cohort 3

Core Coach LogoWe are currently accepting applications for Cohort 3 of the Core Teacher Program. Open to all Idaho educators, the Core Teacher Program provides systematic, sustainable, and strategic professional development in the area of Common Core Literacy. If you are interested in applying for this year’s program, contact your region’s Coach.

Application Deadline: May 15, 2015

Building a Bridge

I’ve been working on my dissertation proposal for too many months to count now. This is a common phenomenon and not worth commenting on. But what is of note is this: I’ve been slogging through mud for some time now, and six weeks ago, I came to a full stop. I’ve banged my head against the proverbial wall. I’ve paced. I’ve frowned and stared off into the wild blue yonder. I’ve retraced my steps, started anew, retraced, tracked out in a different direction.

This wouldn’t be so tragic if I didn’t have three pretty tight chapters of an almost complete dissertation proposal. Here is my roadblock: I’ve been feeling as though it’s Frankensteined together for some time. There’s something wrong and it feels disingenuous to keep pushing. (Note to self: it’s important to honor the tension of daily forward movement vs. forcing something that doesn’t fit.) So I’ve given myself permission to wrestle with it. I’ve taken time, time that I don’t feel I have – which makes it all the more important to take the time.

But the more I tease at it, the more I read and ponder and consider, the more I think that there is a missing link. The more I depend upon that sidelong glance, the more I realize that I’m keeping “the tail of [my] eye on what is happening over and above [the] author” and theory and research that I’m reading (Frost). It’s not Frankenstein – there is simply a missing element.  It is a bridge that links the two together. It is my job to identify, design, gather materials for, and build this bridge.

I’m good for it. I’ve got this. I have a growth mindset. In the immortal words of Gandhi, “If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.

On the other hand, I am learning the hard way that Vygotsky is right: Learning is social. I need someone to talk to. I need iron sharpening iron. I need hard questions. I need to be simmering in the primordial morass of likewise seeking scholars, intent on the nuances of measures and constructs and theoretical frameworks. This isolation isn’t what I signed up for.

But the bridge calls. And forward movement is essential. And growth, while painful, is worth it in the end.

Summer Workshop: EQuIP Rubric Training

Teachers are bombarded with curriculum that is purportedly “Common-Core Aligned.” Experience, however, reveals that much of this curriculum is the same old material, re-wrapped with a shiny new cover. How can we determine what is high quality and what is not? This workshop provides participants with deep training in evaluating materials aligned to the Idaho Core. While examining high quality lessons & units, participants will gain experience using the EQuIP Rubric, a tool designed for determining the quality of curricular material. From here, educators are empowered to revise existing units, whether those are publisher-created or their own, or even craft new ones. Class held in Lewiston.

This is a three-day workshop that provides in-depth training in the EQuIP rubric to assess instructional materials against the Common Core, the Key Shifts, the best research-based instruction strategies, and varied modes of assessment. It includes the application of assessment methodologies on publisher and teacher-created units. The following topics and problems will be studied and practiced:

  1. Teacher as Effective Evaluator: assess educational units with the EQuIP rubic and provide substantive and constructive feedback.
  2. Teacher as Content Specialist: revise own unit based upon content knowledge, personal expertise, and feedback from other teachers via the EQuIP rubric.

Workshop Objectives: At the conclusion of this 3-day Workshop, participants should be able to:

  1. Use the EQuIP rubric as a lens and a tool to effectively assess quality instructional materials in the following areas:
    1. The Common Core State Standards;
    2. The Key Shifts required by the Common Core;
    3. Research-based instructional strategies;
    4. Varied modes of assessment;
  2. Use the EQuIP rubric as a lens and a tool to build and revise their own lessons and units.

Summer Workshop: Key Shifts

A current trend in education is the term “key shifts” when referring to the Common Core. This workshop provides active learning about the key shifts and facilitated work time for embedding these key shifts into lessons. Teachers will learn actively, craft a lesson, and have something ready to go for September! (Note: bring a lesson or lesson idea that you are interested in aligning to the Idaho Core.)

This is a course that provides in-depth training in the Key Shifts. It includes the application of key shifts through integration into lesson plans. The following topics and problems will be studied and practiced:

  1. The Key Shifts
  2. Lesson and/or unit revision.
  3. The Common Core Anchor Standards and grade-level standards.

Workshop Objectives: At the conclusion of this workshop, participants should be able to:

  1. Use the key shifts as a lens and a tool to effectively revise lessons/units.
  2. Use the Instructional Practices Guide as a lens and a tool to reflect upon their own teaching and to revise their own lessons and units.

Summer Workshop: Transforming School Culture

School culture can make or break an initiative such as the move to the Idaho Core. This workshop explores the four types of educators who make up school communities (Muhammad, 2009) and how administrators can move their staff toward a positive work environment. Participants will actively engage in a Document-Based Inquiry (experiencing Common Core-aligned learning) around the Mann Gulch Fire and explore why people resist change even in the face of personal danger. From there, participants will problem-solve challenges and create action plans for their educational contexts. While this workshop is focused on administrators, they are encouraged to invite their leadership teams. The following topics and problems will be studied and practiced:

  1. School Culture.
  2. Change Made Doable.
  3. Problem-Solving

Workshop Objectives: At the conclusion of this workshop, participants should be able to:

  1. Use the “Drop Your Tools” research as a lens and a tool to effectively assess their school culture;
  2. Use the research on Change (Heath & Heath, 2010) and Motivation (Pink, 2009) as a lens and a tool to craft a plan of action for their own educational context.
  3. Identify Core-aligned instructional strategies that can be used in professional development contexts, as well as K-12 classrooms.

Summer Workshop: Evaluating Student Work

Evaluating Student Work is an intensive workshop that continues in-depth exploration of utilizing the EQuIP rubric to assess instructional materials against the Common Core, the Key Shifts, the best research-based instruction strategies, and varied modes of assessment. It includes looking at student work samples (low, middle, and high) to both assess and reflect upon the quality of the unit taught and to begin the process of finding anchor papers for future classroom application. The following topics and problems will be studied and practiced:

  1. Using student work samples to evaluate the quality of teacher-created units;
  2. Teacher as Content Specialist: revise own Core-aligned unit based upon content knowledge, personal expertise, and feedback from other teachers via the EQuIP rubric.
  3. Teacher as Knowledgeable Instructor: teach Core-aligned unit in the classroom.
  4. Teacher as Reflective Practitioner: reflect upon the teaching of Core-aligned unit, consider revision possibilities, and record observations.

Workshop Objectives: At the conclusion of this 4-day workshop, participants should be able to:

  1. Use the EQuIP student work rubric as a lens and a tool to effectively assess the quality of teacher-created units;
  2. Analyze and assess student work samples to establish norms, anchor papers, and non-examples.
  3. Maintain a Reflective Notebook that records and reflects upon their Common Core journeys, revision ideas, and observations of student work.

Apply for Core Teacher Program: Cohort 2

Idaho Core Coach Objectives and District Commitments

Each region’s Idaho Core Coach is committed to providing expertise, professional development, and ongoing support in order to assist districts, schools, and teachers in creating or refining their plan for Idaho Core (CCSS) shifts.  The Core Coach assigned to your district lives and has worked as a classroom teacher in your region.

We encourage all districts to participate and to nominate teachers or instructional coaches who are responsive, effective, and who are respected by other teachers in your district.  Our key objectives are as follows:


  • Provide systematic, sustainable, and strategic professional development of local educators and administrators in the Idaho Core and EQuIP rubric;
  • Build capacity of local educators to implement Idaho Core standards through the development of aligned lessons, units, and assessments, as well as the inclusion of research-based instructional strategies;
  • Build consistency in the understanding of Idaho Core & the implementation of such knowledge across Idaho’s regions, districts, schools, and classes while being responsive and respectful of the state’s diversity and local expertise;
  • Provide equitable learning opportunities for all students.

Contact your local Coach for application information.

Design Thinking: Tim Brown

The initial planning stages and subsequent development of our statewide professional development program, the Idaho Core Coaching Network, was predicated on the concepts of Design Thinking. This iterative process is never finished: as more teachers join our ranks, we constantly ask for feedback in the form of surveys, reflective questions in dialogue journals, and collaborations between Core Coaches. This feedback informs our goal of continuous improvement, but it does so in such a way the integrates the needs and concerns of those most deeply impacted: the teachers receiving the professional development and the Coaches providing the professional development.

This brief clip (Don Norman and Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO) provides a glimpse into why design thinking provides an additional layer of insight for those concerned with planning, innovation, and problem-solving.

Honoring the Tension of Researcher & Teacher

I provide professional development to teachers. This is my passion and my vocation. As a doctoral student, I have grappled with the challenge of being deeply immersed in my subject as a facilitator and dispassionately observing in my role as researcher. And yet, it doesn’t make sense for me to entirely disregard my 15 years in the education field. My experience as a junior high and high school English Language Arts teacher and as a facilitator of professional development for teachers has provided both a substantial foundation of knowledge and a valuable context for the events and practices that I encounter as researcher. And while there is validity in acknowledging the researcher’s bias, there is a long history of acknowledging the valuable role that harnessing the expertise, insights, and “gut checks” of the researcher in question (Mills, 1959; Glense & Peshkin, 1992; Straus, 1987; Reason, 1988) provides. It is this acknowledgement of tensions – the awareness of real, perceived, and potential bias as well as the “virtuous” perspectives and insights of my experience – that girds my research journey.

What do I do? Upon reflection, it seems that I must acknowledge the tension. And so, on this journey of research and dissertation planning, I vow to consciously honor the years of apprenticed and masterful junior high and high school teaching, the years spent honing the art and science of facilitating professional development for adult learners, and the depth and breadth of my own perspective, knowledge, and experience in these roles. I also consciously bound this journey within a flexible netting of researcher awareness. While choosing not to eliminate the influences of my educator identity or background in facilitating professional development, it is also essential that I choose not to impose my assumptions and values upon the research. In this, I am adopting the lens of “critical subjectivity” (Reason, 1988, 1994), that “quality of awareness in which we do not suppress our primary experience; nor do we allow ourselves to be swept away and overwhelmed by it; rather we raise it to consciousness and use it as part of the inquiry process” (1933, p. 12). Instead of allowing myself to be distracted by the binary thinking of either/or, I am embracing the both/and attitude. I am both a researcher and a teacher — and my writing, thinking, and research will only benefit from this union.