April 01, 2023

EDUCATION MATTERS: Reflections on a conversation with NV elementary principal

An excellent visit with James Larson, the principal at Nodaway Valley Elementary, gave me confidence our youngest learners are off to a good start. The staff is working together, focused, and committed to student learning. Did you know that teachers are the school factor that most impacts student success? Mr. Larson lauded the staff. He said they’re like a family — working together well, both personally and professionally. He emphasized the importance of the adults in children’s lives developing positive relationships - modeling what they want the students to do. I think Mr, Larson’s advice would serve our children well if all of us did that, not just their teachers,

Mr. Larson emphasized the focus on good teaching practices saying, “If we want to see our children learn well, the ongoing learning of the staff is critical.” Research is constantly evolving in education, just as it does in medicine, engineering, and other fields. Because of research, cars are much safer today than even 10 years ago. Education research is also critical and guides our teachers. Teachers respond to new research by building more effective classroom routines and instructional practices. We folks who are not in the classroom should remember that even if something was done a certain way when we taught or went to school does not mean it should be done that way now. As with everything, times change and professionals learn more about what works. An initiative used in schools across Iowa, including NV, is the multi-tiered system of support (MTSS). Student needs are identified through teacher observation and assessment and interventions are provided to support those student needs. Teachers have to study the student learning progress of each child, recognize problems as they arise, have teaching strategies to address those problems, and implement effective ways of assessing whether those problems have been overcome. I hear people say, “Well teaching elementary school can’t be that hard.” It is. Thank goodness we have well-trained, hard-working educators that want every child to learn well.We all hear about the behavioral problems of kids in school these days. I have heard more than one person say, “Just give them a swat - that’s what we did in my day and it worked.” Besides the fact it is illegal to spank students in Iowa schools, spanking does not work. Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin found that spanking does not make children behave in the short term, is not linked with reductions in aggression or antisocial behavior, and is not linked with long-term compliance or a change in morals. (Gershoff, Elizabeth, 2016). So what do we do? At NV the staff is learning about an intervention called Restorative Practices. This effort focuses on helping students think about and change their behaviors through conversations with staff and other students and receiving appropriate consequences.Additionally, students and teachers at the elementary are engaged in a program called Language Essentials for Teaching Reading and Spelling (LETRS). This is a professional development effort focused on learning more about teaching literacy (reading and writing primarily). As you might know, reading is a predictor of life success and we want all of our students to master that skill!The NV Elementary is participating for the first time in an activity called Mock Caldecott. The Caldecott Awards go to American illustrators of picture books for children, published in the United States. Starting in December teachers introduced the project; children learned all about the awards and a lot about what writers and artists do to make books interesting and appealing to the readers. This project fell right in line with NV’s language arts curriculum.

The fifth grade classes read and then videotaped themselves reading one of the 14 nominated books. Also, they read the nominated books to our younger students, which proved to be great fun for all.The kids voted for their favorite books the week of January 23rd at NV Elementary. The overall local favorite and four honorees were selected by that vote. The national Caldecott Award winner and four honoree selections were announced on January 30th (before this article goes to press). NV will have an elementary-wide assembly this week to see how the students’ picks match those of the Caldecott committee. I imagine that will lead to great conversations! We will try to report on that next week!As you can see, NV educators have their plates full. There is a lot of good work by staff and students in all of our schools, and this month I observed that at NV Elementary, a wonderful school. If you want to volunteer at the elementary (read to students, listen to students read, help teachers organize materials, give Julie a hand in the office, etc.), give Julie a call at 641–743-6136. You will learn more than you ever imagined, bring joy to NV students and yourself, and provide needed help to the staff. Until next month, stay warm and healthy!