Friday, February 20, 2015

Western Region PDI - January 20, 2015

PAMLE 2015 Western Region Professional Development Institute
Middle Level Education, “Living it, Loving it, Laughing About it” was the theme of the day for Western Region Middle Level Educators that gathered at South Side Middle School on a cold January 19th for an outstanding day of professional development.  AMLE’s own Jack Berckemeyer was the keynote speaker for the event which included approximately 300 people from around the western region.
The day consisted of a humorous, practical and inspirational keynote message from Jack and three break-out sessions of presentations of various educational topics.  Each breakout session contained 11 different options for a total of 33 presentations throughout the day.  Educators from around the PA Western Region provided the foundation for the professional development institute as experts shared their best practices and experiences in a day of true collaboration and celebration of middle level education.
The PDI was attended by 12 different schools, 2 universities, and 3 organizations.  Representatives from PAMLE executive board and the PA Don Eichhorn “Schools to Watch” program also attended. Participants enjoyed a continental breakfast, a 6th grade band performance, a keynote presentation from Jack Berckemeyer, a catered lunch with time to visit 20 educational vendors, and 3 sessions of various educational presentations from middle level experts.
The day was truly a day of collaboration and celebration of middle level education.  From the collective efforts of the Western Region Executive Board, South Side Middle School Staff, local vendors, and our outstanding presenters, the 300 attendees experienced middle level education at its best. The day exemplified the amazing profession and people involved in middle level education as the energy, enthusiasm and collegiality created a warm and motivating atmosphere on that cold January day.  Yes, The Western Region of PAMLE, with the help of Jack Berckemeyer, and all of the participants celebrated middle level education as they indeed were “Living it, Loving it and Laughing about it!”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

New PA STW Schools Present in DC

New PA STW Schools present programs they are most proud at the National Schools to Watch Conference in Washington DC.

ET Richardson MS, Schuylkill Valley MS, Northley MS, and Kane Area Middle School were recognized at the National Schools to Watch Conference in Washington DC on June 26-28, as the four newest schools recognized as Don Eichhorn Schools: Schools to Watch Schools in Pennsylvania.

Dan Tracy, Principal, and Madeleine O'Dowd, Asst. Principal, presented the Advisory program, "The Many Faces of Advisory", that they use at ET Richardson MS in the Springfield Delaware County School District.   Mrs. O'Dowd presented the six types of advisories as defined by national middle school organizations; Caring, Community, Skills, Invigoration, Academic, and Administration.  Both discussed how they implemented their advisory program from the research phase to implementation.  They adopted a program that is a part of their advisory program entitled, Developmental Design.  All teachers were trained in Developmental Design, and they use this program as part of their Morning Meetings two days out of their six-day cycle.  They name their morning meetings, CPR: Circle of Power and Respect.  Their school operates on a six-day cycle where two of the days in the 6-day cycle are SSR days, which frees up time for core teachers to work with students who need support in math or Language Arts.  Two of the days are used for Current Events using CNN News as well as local issues and the last two days are CPR days.  Their Advisory Program meets in the beginning of every day for 30 minutes.  Video clips were shown of some of the Blue and Gold Day competitions used during Morning Meeting days.

For more information about this program, please contact Dan Tracy at <>.  You are able to view the PowerPoint used in the presentation in the Members Only side of the PAMLE website.


Schuylkill Valley MS presented their CORRE program, Cooperation, Organization, Responsibility, and Respect for Everyone.  Presenters included Michael Mitchell Jr, principal, and teachers Kathy Batson, Beth Harner, Ronda Seymour, and Kelly Horlacher.

Mr. Mitchell began the session showing a short video that highlighted the programs at Schuylkill Valley emphasizing the values of cooperation, organization, responsibility and respect for everyone.  Ms. Horlacher, 5th grade learning support, discussed the many opportunities afforded to all students including Earth Day Activities, student generated fund raisers, drama opportunities, homework center, gym/pool after school program, etc. Late buses are provided for after school activities.  Mrs. Harner, librarian, presented many of the cross-curricular activities used in the school.  Sixth graders recreate Williamsburg as part of their social studies curriculum.  Art, and music are heavily involved in all the activities.  Other cross curricular activities include Pi Day, cooperative activities, mythology, Mrs. Seymour, art teacher, talked about meeting the individual needs of all students and providing students the opportunity to move between their elementary and high schools.  Guidance groups were explained.  Mrs. Batson, 8th grade Language Arts teacher, discussed the many opportunities that are available to change their schedules to best meet the needs of their students.  Classes in 8th grade are 80 minutes long with math and Language Arts meeting everyday all year and science and social studies meeting every other day all year long.  Classes rotate throughout the six-day cycle in 6th through 8th grade, so they don't always meet at the same time each day.  During lunch, students are assigned tables and chores each day.  They rotate tables at the end of each quarter allowing them to eat with a whole new set of students.  This allows them to interact with most of their classmates throughout their four years at the middle school.  Each grade level is assigned a theme for the year; 5th grade is Organization, 6th grade is Responsibility, 7th grade is Cooperation, and 8th grade is Respect, and activities are generated around the grade level themes.

Awards are provided to students on a variety of issues, both academically and socially.  Quality and cultural awareness is provided to all students through their social studies and foreign language curriculums.  Other curricular areas take part in many of the cultural experiences; especially art and music that are very involved in having students create and perform cultural experiences.  Other unique approaches include outdoor education experiences, ISTA- Individualized Study, Tutoring and Assistance their last period of the day.  This is where they have band, chorus and supports for students.

For more information about this program, please contact Michael Mitchell at, <>.  You are also able to view their PowerPoint presentation in the Members Only side of the PAMLE website.


Northley MS presented their program, "From Meetings to PLC's; Transforming a School". Presenters included; L.J. Blair, Principal, Dan Hill, Asst. Principal, and teachers Nicole May and Gina Ragan.

Mr. Blair began the session by explaining their Professional Learning Communities, (PLC's) and their meeting schedules.  He discussed how he changed the schools bell schedule to best meet the needs of middle school philosophy.  Ms. Ragan discussed the monthly meetings, outlined topics, attendees and schedule.  Team monthly meetings include, Team Leaders, Positive Behavior Support, Departments, Continuous Improvement Plan (CIP), Schools to Watch (STW), Technology, and New Teachers.  Team meetings were explained and agendas shared.  Mrs. May explained the PLC's in Action - Goal Setting and specific topics for some of the meetings.  Teachers have the opportunity to meet with small numbers of students to review progress and set goals with their students.  Mid-year goals are set on New Year's Resolution Day that is the first day back from winter break in January.  Grade level transitions were discussed for each grade level including activities from 5th to 6th, 6th to 7th, 7th to 8th and 8th to 9th.  Specific agenda items were shared for each transition group.

ISTA - Individual Study, Tutoring, and Assistance, is the last period of each day where chorus, band, and student supports are embedded.  Dan Hill explained the schools referral process and how they use their Child Study Team to review referrals and develop interventions.  Teachers use green cards as a pre-referral method before office referrals for discipline.

For more information on this topic, please contact L.J. Blair at <>.  We will include any handouts as well as the PowerPoint from the presentation on the PAMLE website in the Members Only section under STW.


Kane Area MS presented a session entitled, "Resources and Supports: Addressing the Needs of the Developing Adolescent". James Fryzlewicz, Principal, and Dr. Anderson, Superintendent.

Mr. Fryzlewicz began his session explaining the Kane Area School District; it's large, wide-open rural setting.   He discussed his schools team process and emphasized the importance of team meetings.  The schools vision was shared as well as the KISS program, collaborative instruction, student recognition and incentives, and advisement.  The middle school guidance program was explained and how it is able integrate with the lunch program and not compete with Focus classes.

Mr. Fryzlewicz discussed Kane's emphasis on acceptable online behavior, social networking and cyber bullying.  He reviewed his schools transitions and special education.  Other programs discussed included:
    1.  Schools coordination with outside service providers
    2.  Waterfront - on-line learning program
    3.  KISS - Kane Intervention Success System - coordinates behavior and utilizes
Tier 1, 2, 3 interventions
    4.  Interdisciplinary Units - Medieval Feast, Teaming with the Community, Challenger
    5.  Community Engagement opportunities
    6.  Co-curricular Activities
    7.  Special Celebrations - Who's Your Superman?, Medieval Times Fair, Science Olympiad,
Earth Day, Rocket Day, Anchor Day
    8.  MAA - Mandatory Academic Assistance - after school support using peer helpers
    9.  Local Historians
    10.  Outdoor Education Programs

Mr. Fryzlewicz finished his presentation emphasizing the importance of using community volunteers in both in-school and out-of-school activities.

For more information about Kane's program, please contact James Fryzlewicz at>.  We will include handouts from his presentation in the Members Only Side of the PAMLE Website in the STW section.

STW Summit 2014

Schools to Watch Summit
Duquesne University
June 22-23, 2014

Fifty-five teachers and administrators from 17 of Pennsylvania's 31 recognized Schools to Watch Schools were joined by 12 Duquesne University administrative graduate students at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh for the 3rd Annual PA STW Summit.  This Summit was available free of charge to all participants thanks to a generous sponsorship by Duquesne.

The purpose of this Summit was
to bring our STW schools together to share best practice and to provide information and materials for schools to share with colleagues in their home schools.  This year aspiring educational administrative graduate students from Duquesne joined us at  the Summit for the first time.  They were able to interact with current teachers and administrators from PA STW schools.  The focus of this year's Summit was on 21st Century Skills, Service Learning and vocabulary and writing across the curriculum.  Throughout both days, each of our 17 schools represented, were able to present a best practice from their school of which they were most proud.

The Summit began with a presentation by Karen Brown, a retired principal from Boyce MS, with a description of how all of our STW schools can participate in Calc-u-Solve.  Our intent is to have our STW schools compete with each other and to ultimately compete in the Calc-u-Solve Super Bowl at Duquesne in February.  

Robert Furman, retired Duquesne Director of Educational Administration and Supervision, shared with attendees a research study he and Cathy Luke completed on "Face Time vs Face to Face Time."  He presented the early research of Dr. Donald Eichhorn and his position on the need for social interaction. He also emphasized the need for students to utilize 21st Century Skills to be successful life long learners.  His son, Rob Furman, lead the attendees in a small group activity where each group brainstormed and presented the use of how to integrate technology, cooperation, collaboration, communication, social responsibility  and critical thinking, and problem solving into a sample student documentary.  The groups did a gallery walk reviewing each other's proposals and ideas.

Laura Rog, Generation On, and Holly Turkovic, Pittsburgh Cares, presented the Generation On Service Learning program for attendees.  Everyone had the opportunity to work in their table groups brainstorming opportunities to use service learning within their schools. They were provided time to share their ideas with each other.  Once again the emphasis was placed on utilizing 21st Century Skills within their existing learning environment.  Laura led the group through the Generation On website, <> and showed them how to navigate the website and access free valuable information.

Kath Benson, retired Chair of Middle and Secondary Education at Edinboro, presented different vocabulary strategies to all attendees.  She began by talking about the 30 million word gap and had everyone reflect on how that affected them.  She presented the concept using a Word Wall in every middle school classroom.  She discussed the importance of metacognition - the need for students to think about their thinking in all subjects. The attendees were divided into five groups and were able to rotate among five different vocabulary stations:  List Group Label Write, Strategy Foldables, Concept Attainment, Sticky Notes and Sematic Feature Analysis.  Each group was given the opportunity to share their thoughts about each of the strategies.

At lunch, Robert Furman was presented the Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education's, Schools to Watch Advocacy Award for his dedication and continued commitment to middle level education and the Schools to Watch process.

Whitney Wesley, Middle Level Department - Edinboro University, began the discussion about writing.  She shared with the group the Six Phases of Creatrivity; inspiration, clarification, evaluation, distillation, incubation, and perspiration.   Writing strategies shared with the group included Talking Drawings, Six Thinking Hats, Scamper Skills and Anti-Coloring Book.  Attendees had the opportunity to take the concept, "The 21st Century Learner," and comment on what it means defining it through each of the 6 Thinking Caps.  Within their table groups, attendees used the Anti-Coloring Book idea to draw a picture of something that represents their school. Each of them then had an opportunity to discuss their illustrations with the group.

Brian Kelley, 8th grade Creative Writing teacher from the Charles F. Patton MS and member of the PA Writing and Literature Project, concluded the day presenting Writing is Thinking.  He emphasized the need for teachers to be mentors for their students, to create projects or presentations along with them to create models.  He had attendees read student selections and discuss components of good writing; emphasizing student voice and structure.  Brian shared how he uses technology to allow students the opportunity to post their writing and solicit feedback.  He shared his blog sites, classroom twitter accounts, and student projects.  He finished his presentation by sharing two documentaries that his students completed as end of the year projects.

All of the handouts from the Summit will be posted on the Members Only side of the PAMLE website, <>, for all attendees and members of PAMLE to access.  We would like to extend our sincere thank you to Duquesne university for allowing members of our STW schools to participate in this years Summit free of charge.

Schools to Watch is a program of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle a Grades Reform.  For more information about our Schools to Watch program in Pennsylvania, please go to the PAMLE website or contact Bruce Vosburgh.

Bruce Vosburgh
Director - Don Eichhorn Schools: Schools to Watch

Friday, January 10, 2014

Why Should I Mentor a Student Teacher? Mentor Teachers Inspire Future Generations of Leaders.

I knew there would be a time in my professional career when I would mentor a student teacher.  Someone mentored me and I intended to continue the cycle but planned to wait until I had enough insight, masterful technique, and pertinent information to share.  Would I ever be fully ready?  We received a staff email, “If you would like a student teacher, let me know so I can forward your interest to administration”.  The opportunity resonated with one of my personal goals.  Graciously sewn into the responsibility of guiding a new teacher was a light of hope for the next generation.  That inspiration caused me to reconsider the timing and thoughtfully organize my priorities.   My life was undeniably busy.  With a fresh math curriculum, graduate courses, two elementary school-aged children of my own, and a supportive husband working long hours, time was a precious commodity.   Was I prepared to help a young teacher learn the nuances of our profession?  When a follow-up email, “Any takers on a student teacher?” arrived in my inbox, I was compelled to respond.

My student teacher was a Middle Level Math Education Major from a local university.  She was less than half my age and her academic experiences varied from mine.  She attended an all girls’ private high school.  My academic career was spent in public school.  Despite our differences, we also shared similarities.  We discovered that neither of us came from a family of teachers.  We both liked banana bread.  And, like most, we knew from a young age that we wanted to become teachers.
Emily started her fifteen week middle school math placement with only ever observing a class of students.  Thankfully, the policy has changed.  Advocacy pays substantial dividends!  She came in to meet me at the end of December, before her assignment started.  When I first met her in the hallway, she looked nervous.  I remembered how I felt meeting my mentor teacher for the first time and I acted the way I wish I had been greeted on that very first day.  We talked about her teaching experiences.  When I realized she had never taught a lesson, we needed to start her experience from her comfort zone.  I provided her with materials and a general overview for our start in January. 

During the first week, she watched my lessons and took copious notes.  She shadowed my daily professional activities and recorded weekly routines.  We reflected at the end of each day and wrote her new experiences in a daily journal.  On our first day of sixth grade lunch duty, we walked into the cafeteria together.  After a few steps, I realized that she stopped.  I turned and looked at her.  She looked disoriented.  Then, it dawned on me.  I walked beside her and asked “Have you ever been in a school cafeteria during lunch”?  She shook her head, “No”.  In her private school experiences, students ate peacefully in the classroom.   Three hundred hungry, noisy sixth grades must have been overwhelming!  She survived and, together, we reflected on the experience during our lunch period.   Our lunch conversations evolved from education to other aspects of life.  We discovered that we were both taking Instructional Media classes.  We both had younger siblings.  I noticed a bright engagement ring and asked questions.  She was planning a wedding!

During our time together, I had the opportunity to experience teaching through the eyes of a bright, young teacher.  She was prepared, energetic, and dedicated to our profession.  Her lessons were well written. She knew the math standards.  Her dedication matched her passion for teaching.  We worked together on intangible things like breaking into an established group, sharing information in parent/team conferences, and responding to phone calls and emails.  As in life, most things are challenging the first time around and become easier with practice.  Together, we worked to improve her instructional practice by gradually increasing her activity in the classroom.  We co-taught lessons for several weeks.  With thoughtful and supportive guidance, our students recognized both of us as classroom teachers.  We differentiated instruction and used iPads to meet the needs of our students.  Emily learned to fluently use the SMART board, document camera, and other “hands-on” materials to involve all learners.  Those exercises provided solid experiences for her to share during professional interviews.  She matured from an observer to an active leader.   Eventually, she led classes as I observed.  We still took time for reflection.  An unexpected side effect of mentoring: thinking about one’s professional actions helps to polish those skills.

Early on, we established a goal to secure her a permanent teaching position before graduation.  It was definitely a process!  Emily filled out applications and I completed recommendations.  She emailed recruiters and I spoke with principals.  Emily and I discussed interview confidence, key talking points and proper attire.  We practiced interview questions and discussed various scenarios along with proper etiquette.  We spent about an hour after the school day, most days, to plan and reflect before I left to pick up my daughters and she went home to continue her studies.  Our dedication and tenacity produced positive results!  She earned both face to face and Skype interviews.  A school district flew her to North Carolina for an interview during our public school spring break.  She was offered a permanent position before the end of her field experience.  We kept working.  She was offered two more teaching positions before she graduated college and decided to sign a contract for one in North Carolina.  Further, she received an award for excellence in student teaching. 
The last few days of her field experience were emotional.  We had bonded.  Two teachers from different life experiences had come together to accomplish a remarkable goal.  Neither of us will ever be the same.  We still keep in touch.  We emailed before her first week of school.  Academic milestones like progress report and report card time remind us to send a quick email or text.  I emailed her after being asked to write this article.  

Looking back, the value of meeting someone at his or her own comfort level is paramount to overall growth.  When people feel secure and appreciated, they are empowered to grow beyond any given expectation.  A gradual release from comfort into greater responsibility, followed by supportive reflection builds a network of mutual respect.  In the twenty-first century, cross generational connections benefit both sides.  We can learn volumes from each other when we take the time to ask questions and listen, really listen, to the answers.

Suzanne Brindle
Northley Middle School

Aston, PA