Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Remembering Dayna Richardson


By Vicki Bechard,
former LFKS Secretary 

I sat down to write this blog at the end of September with a heavy heart, as a way to process a tremendous personal and professional loss, and as a tribute really, to my friend, colleague and partner in professional learning Dayna Richardson. True to Dayna’s love/hate relationship with technology, we have had some technical issues getting the blog to post, so it is appearing later than we’d intended but this gives us a chance to continue to keep Dayna’s memory fresh in our minds and heart. I can visualize her laughing at our technology struggles as she proclaims "user error!" And indeed it was!  

Dayna Richardson was the heart and soul of professional learning in South Central Kansas, perhaps even the whole state, and her influence extended nationally too. Whether she was part of a school system, creating an organization like ESSSDACK, leading the state’s professional learning organization, or advising state education officials, she was always working to support teachers and administrators by helping them discover how to learn best, how to create culture of learning, and how to ensure those strategies would live on in school improvement and accreditation efforts. She never shied away from a challenge. Learning Forward Kansas would not be where it is today without her leadership, her vision, and her never ending possibility thinking. She was a lifelong learner and found so many ways to share her understanding with others – usually in multiple colors, fonts, and organizational structures, with quotes, pictures, and short videos thrown in to make connections and deepen understanding. 

In the time Dayna and I worked together on a variety of projects to promote professional learning, our research and collaborative conversations expanded our understanding of what worked best. We were partners in learning. She was a big promoter of the work of Simon Sinek….and how finding and focusing on the “why” helped shape one’s success.  She had a quote for every situation but one that we relied on a great deal came from Maya Angelou – “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”  

Dayna was always about growth and improvement. She studied change theory and how we could use this understanding to effectively make a significant difference in how schools and educators do business. We laughed about “change is hard, you go first” but in reality change is hard and the more we know how change affects everyone, the better we can determine the most effective ways to move forward. I hear her asking,“Why do we want to get better? How can we get better? How will we know?” And she believed and modeled the idea that we are “better together.” Collaboration was included in all that she/we did. Collective efficacy became a goal of an effective culture of learning as she promoted excellence for every school. I probably am most proud of the video series we created with the help from our technical expert Rosemary Miller, entitled Inspired to Learn:  Kansas Stories.”  This was a vision without a real skill set that turned into a resource we will always have that shares the why, how and what of professional learning, collaboration, collective efficacy, and leadership for and by Kansas educators. Dayna narrated those videos so we will forever be able to hear her words of wisdom at the click of a link.

As I reflect on my work with Dayna, I have thought about the many “Daynaisms” that can be attributed to her. She was a coach and mentor and always looked for ways to tactfully get people to examine their own thinking or actions. She asked great questions. She phrased common statements or questions in ways that may not seem important but always protected the dignity of the person she was speaking with while encouraging them to accept the responsibility of the action. Some of those might include:

·         Find ways to touch people’s hearts.

·         Change “You NEED” to do that; to “You WANT” to do that.

·         Replace “SHOULD” with “CONSIDER”

·         Gentle reminder…. Sometimes it didn’t feel gentle when you knew you’d forgotten to do whatever it was, but she was always kind, no matter what.

·         She often used metaphors or examples to illustrate a point. For example, Culture eats strategy for breakfast (a quote from Peter Drucker) was one of her favorites. This was clearly to help people understand that even the best strategies will only work within the right culture so the time and effort spent building that culture is worth it to achieve the best results.

·         She hated routine (even though it was important) paperwork, but she loved paper. We always had colorful handouts loaded with information, sticky notes, and big sticky posters to use in workshops to organize and share information. She often printed out draft copies so she could get a better look when proofreading. She literally saved everything! Sometimes we sent each other pictures of our messy office spaces! J

If I only write this from the perspective of how she affected change in education and professional learning, then we miss the personal part of Dayna that endeared her to many.  We started out as colleagues in LFKS.  We became fast friends. Many have known Dayna longer, but it doesn’t matter if you knew her for one year or 50 years, she left her mark on you.  Her smile won you over in a second.  Laughter came easily and often.  She truly cared about the people with whom she interacted. She made me feel valued and appreciated as I know she did the same for others too.  We talked often, and as we worked more closely, we eventually completed each other’s sentences too when editing.  We were so different in the way we approached a task, but we were attuned in purpose, humor, and common interests.    She was a Mac, colorful and creative; I’m a PC, more linear and functional.  But we complemented each other in important ways and produced quality results.

She was a devoted Jayhawk fan.  I am a devoted, purple bleeding K-State fan.  I can admit she watched more K-State games than I watched KU games, because in all honesty, she was just a fan’s fan.  She accompanied Al to so many Hutchinson Community College basketball games, even taking him to North Texas to watch post season play. Ice cream and chocolate were her favorites.  She often stopped at Dairy Queen on her way home from a professional learning meeting or event.  She loved sunflowers, sunsets, wheat fields, the hills around Medicine Lodge, and the many beautiful flowers she grew in her yard.  Watering them gave her a sense of fulfillment just as she nurtured so many of us in education. 

Field trips to Kansas City to watch Dinner Theater or plays often included a Royals game too. She could drive all over Kansas City and not get lost, but those darn Google Docs Folders were much harder to navigate. Sometimes I think she just called me to help her find something on Google Docs so we could talk. J

She loved to shop and sometimes a package from Amazon or a local shop she often patronized would be delivered to my door because she found something purple that I might need. J  She loved her family and talked of them often. She was proud to be a Nittler and a Daddy’s girl; but the Disney clan gave her so much pleasure too. Family gatherings, all things Disney (Mickey Mouse especially), gave her so much JOY! She was blessed with the perfect middle name because Joy is what she loved to find in all that she did and what she gave to so many.

We both loved to travel, but her field trips took her around the world and mine were, until recently, confined to many of the beautiful sights within the United States. The idea of seeing something you’d never seen before and taking in the beauty, history and culture that every location provided was the draw for both of us. She was so excited for the trip my husband and I took this summer to Switzerland and up the Rhine River. That was typical Dayna.  \She was so happy because we were happy and wanted to hear all about it.   

How do we honor the person who has inspired everyone she met with vision, passion, and endless energy to find ways to get better?  How do we reflect on a life well-lived and ensure her legacy will live on in the students she touched, the educators she shaped, and the leadership she provided? I believe we do this by living the lessons we learned from her. Enjoy life. Find your passion. Consider possibilities. Find ways to get better. I think Dayna will be whispering in my ear with guiding questions, and endless quotes until the day I see her again.  \But until then, there will be stops at DQ, butterflies, sunflowers, and many other things that will be daily reminders of my dear friend. As she always said, the joy is in the journey. Thank you for sharing your joy with all of us. Rest easy my friend. Job well done.

Pro Tip:  Check out the Learning Forward Kansas website for more resources on professional learning. Dayna had a hand in the creation of many of these valuable tools.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Community Connections Matter


by Jessica Hanvey

LFKS Conference Chairperson


It has never been more apparent to me, as a long-time educator, the urgency of making the school and community connection.  After the struggles of 2020, educators and students proved to be resilient, digging to the depths of our professional being in order to meet demands of our society. It is noteworthy, at a minimum, how we responded then and are still grinding ahead today. We need to tell our story outside the building.

In much of our state, we are operating with less. Staff shortages might be the worst that many of us have ever experienced.  We are more prescriptive in our approach to meeting the academic and social needs of kids, but lack the human resources to yield results at the highest potential level.  How does our community fit in the equation?  Our survival depends on it. 

The community is the “why.”  Why should we get involved? Why should we commit our personal time and money? Why do soft skills matter? Who are we preparing our students to serve? How can we increase our capacity to utilize our students as our own resources? 

As a result of our current staff shortage, I reached out to our high school future educators instructor to see if we could engage her students  in live classroom experiences. Two future educators walked through my classroom door, did on the job training, and were a wonderful resource to have for sixty minutes. They also have developed rapport with staff, as well as loaded their toolbox with hands-on skills to succeed in class.

A developed relationship between school and community creates ownership.  When employees and every day citizens have an iron in the fire, everything matters more.  Will these students be on a pathway where they are student interns at our businesses beginning as early as middle school?  Will we have the opportunity to grow our own employees from the ground up?  Furthermore, will we have built a valuable enough bond to bring our students back to our community post secondary education? Creating an atmosphere where students feel compelled to “give back” is the goal.

 As a second grade teacher, I’ve witnessed firsthand the value of these connections being created. A few of my students have developed a relationship with a local farmer as a result of opportunities we’ve been intentional to create.  I envision them as his future employees. What a rewarding experience to watch them engage in soft starts by bringing farm equipment to use to plow fields and harvest crops.  In addition, what a valuable resource our farmer has been to serve on our local school board. 

We sure should aim to build pride in who we’re working together to develop. Our citizens and local businesses have potential to be our best recruitment and retention tool.  The way that they project what we are accomplishing in our school impacts our success.  Connections outside the school walls should begin early and expand over time.  Once community stakeholders feel the connection and have a purpose, the process takes care of itself.  

Jessica Hanvey is the 2023 LFKS Conference Chairperson and teaches in USD 382 Pratt School District.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Keeping the Light On


By Vicki Bechard

It’s February. The weather doesn’t know whether we are still in winter or trying to forge ahead to spring.  Even the groundhog wasn’t definitive.  But in my many years of teaching and coaching, February was always a challenging month.  Basketball was on the home stretch after a long season.  The last set of Parent-Teacher Conferences took place with the hope of righting some student ships so they could sail through to the end of the school year and reach their destination.   There are Valentine’s parties and snow days still to come.  Could spring break be too far away?

So maybe our light is dimming a bit as we await spring and all it portends:  new growth, longer days, outside recess, track, baseball, softball, State Assessments, and so much more.  How can we keep the light on as winter wanes and spring hasn’t yet arrived?  If we equate our light to a metaphoric flashlight, we might find some interesting solutions to our problem of dimming light.  And these solutions just aren’t for faculty and staff, they are also something our students might benefit from too.

Depending on the size and type of our flashlight and the amount of light needed, the possible solutions will vary.  Most of the time we just need new batteries – not a whole new flashlight.  Occasionally our bulb is burned out, but generally, checking the batteries is our first step toward restoring our light. Consider these battery possibilities: 

A Attention - How do we give someone attention?  Stop by their room; sit with them at lunch; call, text, listen, inquire about how they are; ask about life outside school; (did I mention listen?); spend time with them; call them by name; make eye contact; show up; respond promptly.  Find a way to ensure they know they matter so that their light never goes out. 

AAAttention + AffectionAffection means we care and gives depth to the attention.  How can we show appropriate affection at school? Proximity; A pat on the back or high five; a warm smile (be sure to smile with your eyes if you are masked!); A note of encouragement, appreciation or thanks; A hug if appropriate and always with permission (realizing that violates the idea of maintaining proper distancing but is sometimes necessary).  Affirmation might be another way to show affection especially in a school setting. We affirm a person is worthy by giving them our undivided attention and demonstrating that we care. These are important ways to keeping the light burning brightly.          

AAA - Attention + Affection + Acceptance  - Acceptance is something everyone seeks. Take the time to get to know the other person; Agree to disagree; Show respect for them as individuals, for their decisions, for their ideas… Invite them in… to a conversation, to a group, to a learning opportunity, to share a laugh.  When one feels accepted they feel like they matter, and their light burns long into the night.

CCompassion - Compassion is more than sympathy.  It is caring in action. How do we show compassion to or for others?  Be Kind; Encourage or positively reinforce; Show empathy for another’s situation; Notice other’s troubles or frustrations; Offer to help or support; Be emotionally moved by their circumstances and help them seek relief; Judge less; Work for the greater good. When someone is experiencing darkness, share your light and be the one who helps them find their light.

DDirection – Finding our way out of the darkness is challenging without a light.  How do we offer direction without telling them what to do?  Shine your light to navigate the darkness:  Guide, Suggest; Ask questions; Offer options; Help identify or define the goal; Encourage and reinforce; Provide feedback; Allow for/create space and time. Sometimes a person’s light is just hidden and they must rediscover their purpose in order for the light to go from dim to bright again.


The purpose of the flashlight metaphor is to get you to think about how really simple it is to look out for each other if we are intentional.  We must notice those around us (and how we are feeling too) and not be hesitant to act.  When you shine your light for others, it also lights your way; conversely if you shine your own light, it can light the way for others too. 

But there are other ways to keep ourselves energized and our light burning brightly.  If we purposely continue to grow and learn new things, it keeps our mind engaged and focused on new possibilities.  What book or article can you read that gives you new ideas?  What professional learning experience can you attend (virtually or in person)? What podcast inspires you? What colleague can you observe? What conversation can you have?  Some schools are even scheduling mental health days for everyone.  We are living in different times and we must think of new ways of responding to the challenges and feelings that dim our light.  We think we don’t have time, but if our flashlight isn’t working we continue to languish in the darkness.  When we can’t see the light we cannot be productive. I admit I don’t stay at Motel 6, but I do like their commercial slogan, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”  What an inviting way to look at the culture in our buildings.  Are you ensuring that there is a light on for everyone to use?

Seek the light.  Share the light.  Be the light.


Pro Tip:  Sometimes even changing the batteries or learning new things doesn’t work

     When that happens, sit with them quietly in their darkness and share your light.


Thursday, December 16, 2021

12 Days AFTER Christmas

By Vicki Bechard 

We all know the song, 12 Days of Christmas and have probably sung it many times.  I’m pretty sure I’d love 5 golden rings, but I have no need for a partridge in a pear tree!  I remember teaching PE in my first job and the band director would send his sections to various parts of the school during first hour (my plan time) to practice prior to their competitions.  The drum section always came to the gym.  So while I see the need for drummers in a band (and I did play in the band in high school), that experience reminds me 12 drummers can be far too many!

I also remember a great tradition that we had at my last school where we did the 12 Days of Christmas Feast and brought food to share in the Teacher’s Lounge for 12 days prior to the Winter Break.  Oh my, it really should have been the 12 pounds gained before Christmas! J

But I digress….  What I’d really like to talk about are the 12 Days AFTER Christmas (winter break) and what that might look like.  We all know by the squirrely kids, shortened days, and looming finals that this semester is almost over.  All we want to do is relax a little and look forward to what Santa and the New Year brings us!  We might not want to focus on resolutions because we know they rarely are fulfilled.  So let’s talk about things we’d like to have happen, wishes, if you will. 

There is optimism in focusing on wants or wishes, and hope is instilled when we look forward.  While I won’t submit this list as song lyrics, I think we might be able to agree that many of these are on our wish list every day.  These wishes might be considered aspirations, the honest truth, or reminders that each of you does make a difference every day.  In any event, I present to you:


1:      Meaningful Collaboration upon your return

2:      Students back in the classroom eager to learn

3:      Masks worn willingly to keep Covid at bay

4:      Kindness and respect on display every day

5:      Leaders who guide during good and tough times

6:      Teachers who challenge and nurture young minds

7:      Snow falling steadily during the night

8:      A “No school” call before the first light

9:      Seeing the spark in a student’s eye

10:    Colleagues to share a laugh or good cry

11:    All assignments turned in when they are due

12:    A pat on the back for all that you do


I think it is important to think about what we want life to look like and along with that, forward thinking.  We get so caught up in how tired or frustrated we are that we forget we are in the greatest profession on earth where we can touch lives and shape the world every single day. What is it that will make your job easier?  More rewarding?  More meaningful?

It is ironic, and somewhat symbolic, that as the semester ends it coincides with the shortest days of the year – where darkness swallows up each day.  With the many challenges and changes educators have faced the last 2 years, it may be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  But I am confident that after a couple of weeks away, you’ll be looking at the New Year with new eyes as the daylight grows longer and the darkness begins to recede.  As you reflect forward into 2022, what does that look like?

What are your wishes?  Your needs?  Is accreditation in your view?  Do you or your staff understand the process of change and how that understanding can contribute to the success (or not) of goal implementation?  Are you (or your staff) continuous learners?  What challenges await you?  How do you tackle all that is on your plate? 

Let us know how we can help you turn those wishes into actions.   Our role at Learning Forward Kansas is to support your school or you as an educator with professional learning so that you can experience excellent teaching, learning, and leading every day.  Isn’t excellence something you would love to have for your building, your classroom, and your students?  Let’s make it happen in the New Year! 

 Happy Holidays from your colleagues at Learning Forward Kansas!

Friday, September 17, 2021

Seeking Covid Relief in Collaboration and Collective Efficacy


 By Vicki Bechard, LFKS Special Projects

How are the children?”  My friend, a long time educator, uses that question to gauge the temperature of the culture of a school, the impact of decisions that are made, and the direction a school is headed. Right now every school is consumed by Covid protocols, differences of opinions, and extra work created by gaps in staff coverage due to the inability to hire a full staff or the quarantines that occur weekly (or even daily).  Learning is going on, school improvement through accreditation is continuing, but our focus seems to be interrupted frequently by the next crisis.  We may be wondering if we will ever find any Covid Relief.  As we think about how best to support our educator friends across the state, we still want to ask the question, “How are the children? But it’s important to follow that question closely with “How are the educators, (including the leaders)?”

My youngest grandson became a middle schooler this year.  When I pick him up from school every day, I always ask him how his day went (How are the children?).  After the predictable response of “Fine” then most days, he begins to talk…a lot (he is related to me of course)!  I find out all kinds of interesting things in those 7 minutes it takes for us to get to my house.  In the beginning it was all about his locker and how efficient he was/wasn’t that day.  Back in August, we planned how he would remember when and where his classes were.  He had some good solutions.  Now, I hear him raise concerns and offer opinions about how quarantines of teachers and students affect his classes.  He’s back to required mask wearing (which he has never opposed), and he noted just today that once first hour is over, he hardly remembers he has one on. He has asked what to do when he sees someone breaking the rules or how he can be more involved.  He had elementary figured out pretty well, so in many ways he’s just trying to figure out middle school and all it entails.

Isn’t that what our educators and administrators are feeling too?  They had school figured out pretty well. Then Covid hit and everything changed.  Not only are they making decisions that are fluid and criticized from all sides, they are also trying to figure out the new normal (that is ever changing).  Educators and leaders could really use some Covid Relief.  So are we checking on our colleagues and friends?  Are we asking, “How are the teachers and the principals and the superintendents?”  When I ask my principal friend how things are going, her initial reply is either “Fine” (where have I heard that before?) or “Busy” as she dashes to keep score on the JV volleyball court because someone couldn’t cover – all before she heads off to a BOE meeting.  Our question of “How are the educators and leaders” might be rhetorical, because we know how they are – they are exhausted.  And the smaller the school system, the worse it may be. How can we help?

Mr. Rogers used to ingrain in the kids watching his show that they want to identify: “Who are the helpers?”  When my 6th grade grandson works on homework, I try to help him with organizational skills, how to study, and test taking strategies. I’ve also noticed he is part of a group text where his friends ask questions about homework or talk about how to do the math problem they don’t understand.  The members share resources or possibilities.  They know how to look things up to get help.  They are succeeding together.  He has found helpers outside the school day to help him succeed in school.  What he is experiencing is collaboration and a student version of collective efficacy.  So when we ask, “How are the educators,” maybe we should be asking, “Who is helping our educators, our principals, even our superintendents?”  Who are they working with to brainstorm ideas or find solutions for their situations?”  Who is helping them grow, learn, and implement effective methods?”

How does all of this tie into our concern about today’s educators maneuvering through a pandemic that seems to never end?  Just as my grandson focused at the beginning of his middle school journey on his locker and getting to class on time, teachers and administrators are also, out of necessity, narrowly focused on logistics during these challenging times.  With fewer staff members, more paperwork (i.e. contact tracing) and less time to concentrate on school improvement, they are overwhelmed as they try to keep all the balls in the air. Collaboration and Collective Efficacy may not be on their radar at the moment but it just might be their salvation.

If we look at Collective Efficacy we know it begins as a group of people who come together for a common goal. When one has efficacy they have the skills and confidence as an individual to do what needs to be done to be successful.  When we band together we have collective efficacy in which the group believes they can succeed to achieve the goal.  In a time where we are inundated with non-academic protocols and regulations that distract us from the business of learning, we find many tend to retreat and work in isolation, but there is power (and relief) in numbers.  Collaborative work makes us all more effective when we utilize our knowledge and skills to help each other. Time you say!  I don’t have time!  To find the time, it requires us to stop and reflect on the path we are taking.  The journey is better in teams.  Even the National Park Service doesn’t want you to hike alone!

To all our Educator and Administrator Friends and Colleagues:  Learning Forward Kansas is here to cheer you on, support you, and provide resources to improve your situation.  Check out our website.  In the Inspired to Learn series, there’s a video on Collective Efficacy.  There are Tips and Tools, and other resource guides that can aid in planning professional learning sessions with your staff.  The protocols all promote collaboration and digging deeper.  The only thing we don’t specifically have is a silver bullet called Covid Relief.  But if you adapt some of these strategies, you just might find yourself feeling a little better about your situation going forward. 

Remember to ask “How are the children?” and really listen.  More to the point, directly ask the children how they are.  They will tell you!  Ask how the teachers are; the principals, coaches, and the superintendent.  Their voices need to be heard; their efforts appreciated, and made more efficient and effective.  Find the helpers.  “Hike” in groups.  This journey is hard enough.  Make it better by collaborating with colleagues who are ready and willing to find solutions and achieve the goal(s). This is collective efficacy. Then you will have found some powerful Covid Relief.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Celebrating Teachers: Challenges, Endings and New Beginnings


May 2, 2021

by Vicki Bechard, Secretary LFKS

The first week of May is traditionally dedicated to showing our appreciation for all teachers.  I think we could have two such celebrations – or may be more!  What if we started each school year off celebrating teachers?  Maybe show some love at the end of the first semester to give them an extra burst to keep it up into the second semester? 

Teachers work hard every day, every month, every year.  They care for the students (their kids) with all they have.  Teachers actually call their students “my kids,” even after they have retired (I can attest to that and some of “my kids” are ready for AARP!)  Every teacher works tirelessly regardless of the size of the system in which they work, but the smaller the school the more likely they are to juggle multiple roles to ensure that the school is successful.  By May, regardless of the year or the school, teachers are tired, but still engaged in the work of student learning.  While teachers look forward to summer break, this is hardly a part time job. 

Summers are spent reviving the spirit, learning new content or strategies, and planning for the next school year.  Last year at this time, teachers were navigating new teaching strategies while making the sudden shift to online learning.  The end of school brings plenty of distractions and activities in a “normal” year, much less one blown up by a pandemic like we’ve not experienced in three generations. So last summer felt very different as we wondered what the fall would bring.  Fast forward to 2021. 

This May, we are ending what may have been the most challenging year of anyone’s teaching career.  Some schools were able to be in front of their students all year, some brought kids back some of the time, and others didn’t bring them back to the physical classroom until the spring semester.  Regardless of the situation, the protocols to keep everyone safe cast a large shadow over what was the ‘20-21 school year, and the subsequent teaching and learning.   But much good has come from this adversity and challenge.  Let’s hope that the adults are learning right along with the kids as we reflect on how we (in schools and the rest of society) will move forward, shaping our new normal.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) became a real focus after talking about its importance for years.  Finding ways to strengthen relationships between the staff, students, and parents was a necessary priority to minimize the isolation people felt and ensure learning would take place.  We are all familiar with the old adage, “kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  This was a year that really underscored this message! 

Appreciation and gratitude became something we all could embrace.  Parents found new appreciation for teachers as they tried to juggle their own work/home lives with that of their student’s learning, often as all of the family was online for work or school.  Teachers and students realized how important the day to day in-person learning was to achieving understanding.  Even sleepy middle school and high school students were ready get up in the morning to go back to school to learn, see their friends and participate in some (albeit restricted) activities and sports. Some semblance of normal seemed like a really great aspiration!

We saw empathy and understanding improve as we addressed each stakeholder group’s challenges, i.e. connectivity issues; shared devices; navigating zoom and other online platforms without prior experience; stay-at-home fatigue; and health concerns.  Schools made many changes in their protocols, bus routes, how they fed students, how they passed in the hallways, and how classes were set up – all to keep our students and teachers safe.  We all adapted and these lessons shouldn’t be lost as the pandemic restrictions begin to lift.

What will our new normal look like?  Can we continue to appreciate each other?  Can we maintain some of the protocols we had in place so there is less illness of any kind in our buildings?  Can we continue to make concerted efforts to strengthen relationships and make all stakeholders feel valued in the educational lives of every school?   Can we carry enduring technology tools and instructional strategies we learned during the pandemic back to our brick and mortar classrooms? (Read more here) Can we STOP focusing on student “learning losses” and START focusing on how we will move forward to target individual student learning needs (gaps, if you will) and not just assume everyone fell behind?  Can we use our data to make teaching and learning more effective as we develop a culture of learning that works for everyone?  Most importantly, can we not go back to the old normal, but create a new one?

Michael Fullan, in his latest paper, “The Right Drivers for Whole System Success,” notes Covid 19 has been (and may continue to be, I might add)

“…a disruption so fundamental that it loosens and discombobulates the system in a way that creates openings for transforming the status quo. 

How can we transform our system given the opening we have been handed?  Our state’s Accreditation Process (KESA) asks us to re-imagine our school in new and better ways.  Lessons from our Covid year might be very useful in this type of future planning. 

Many have written articles (Edutopia, Education Week, Forbes, etc.) that align with Fullan’s advice:

Above all, we recommend avoiding a ‘loss of learning’ mindset that would take us back to traditional learning – to a system that we know was not working for the vast majority of students.

The lessons of SEL are still the foundation for making school (and ultimately learning) meaningful for students.  These are as simple as greeting students at the door each time they enter your school or classroom, or as complex at identifying what losses the student or his/her family experienced over the last year.  If we fall into the trap of starting school in the fall with a battery of assessments to “test them to see where they are” we will not make students excited about learning, and could easily contribute to the mindset and/or inequity that (even the best of intentions) can create by pigeonholing or labeling students in ways that might set them up to fail.  Edutopia has an interesting article that explores this topic more closely. (Read here.)

In this month of endings, let us focus on new beginnings.  Let’s appreciate the teachers (and other administrators and staff) that have gone above and beyond this year to keep our kiddos safe, engage in the important work of relationship building, and provide excellent teaching and learning.  They will continue to do this in our post-pandemic world, and deserve our daily appreciation and support.  They love our kids and care for them as if they were their own.  In my book, they are heroes just as the other many caregivers that have embraced us throughout this last year.  (Coincidentally it is also around this time of year we celebrate nurses too.)  School is a work in progress, just as our students are.  We are continually learning, tweaking, and revising what is best for kids.  There is a rainbow at the end of our Covid storm, setting us up for new beginnings, and inspiring hope for better tomorrows.

Today and every day, let us celebrate all that we are, and all that we aspire to be by saluting the backbone of the educational system, our TEACHERS!   

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

We Need a Little Christmas Right This Very Minute!


By Vicki Bechard, Secretary

Christmas music has been playing in my car for the last month or so.  I have several stations selected so I skip around a lot to only listen to songs I want to hear.  Several songs have extra meaning for me this season, but this song by Johnny Mathis may hit the spot for all of us, especially now, no matter your situation:                                                                                               

                “We Need a Little Christmas” 

…For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
Candles in the window
Carols at the spinet
Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute
Hasn't snowed a single flurry, but Santa dear we're in a hurry

Regardless of your religious beliefs or practices, Christmas can be celebrated by anyone.  It’s the time of year when we think of others; dress up our homes and even ourselves (think ugly Christmas sweaters J).  It’s a time to bring family and friends together – even though this year it might be via ZOOM – to reminisce and share the love.  This Christmas season comes at a time when teaching and learning are occurring in ways that may seem so detached from what we do best, and yet we find ways to make it work under extraordinary circumstances.  We are held hostage by a virus that will hopefully be under control by this time next year or before.  We are living in divisive times that grab our attention away from the beauty of the season.  So we do indeed need a little Christmas…now.

…For I've grown a little leaner
Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder
Grown a little older
And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder
Need a little Christmas now

This verse expresses just how we feel.  Our heroes are tired.  Classroom teachers that are doing their very best to stay healthy, teach their students in whatever format they are presented at any given moment, and adjust to the many regulations that come down the pike.  Administrators are tired too.  No longer just addressing the usual never-ending list of day to day management, instructional leadership, discipline, professional learning leaders, and building climate, they have now become expert contact tracers doing their part to keep those in their charge safe from a sneaky, ever intruding virus.  No decision is popular with everyone.  How do you get ahead of something that is so new to everyone and reacts differently in each person or community? 

If you step back a moment, you realize that our educators are facing personal challenges too.  They may have loved ones who are sick or have succumbed to this dreaded virus or by some other cause. They may be sick themselves. They may be juggling working from home, their own children, spotty internet in rural locations, or checking in on elderly parents and grandparents too.  Some may be bettering themselves with Master’s Degree programs – at a time they are stretched so thin – but they are still learning.  You may be like my grandson who said to me just this morning on our way to school, “Grandma, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas this year.”  He’s dealing with the loss of his mother this past summer.  I can relate.  When we meet or work with others, we don’t always know what they are going through.  One of the things I appreciate about the last 9 months is how the kindness movement has re-emerged.  As the saying goes, “In a world where you can be anything …. Be kind” because we do indeed need a little Christmas right this very minute.

For we need a little music
Need a little laughter
Need a little singing, ringing through the rafter
And we need a little snappy
Happy ever after
Need a little Christmas now

So as your semester comes to an end, and Winter Break begins, take some time to rest, relax, and renew.  Enjoy smaller celebrations this year, whether it’s the lights of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or even as we ring in the New Year. Stay safe.  Practice gratitude for the blessings we each have.  We at Learning Forward Kansas appreciate each one of you and the work you do every day.  Never forget that you are a blessing to so many. 

So, find a little music, seek and share laughter, and perhaps just exactly what we need ….get “a little snappy, and be happy ever after!”  Tis the season of hope, especially as the most challenging year of our lives (at least for most of us) comes to an end and a New Year begins. 

We Need a Little Christmas - NOW!