Friday, February 10, 2017

Terese Jurgensen ~ Director of Student Services/Special Education ~ February 10, 2017

   If You Can Read 
Thank a Teacher!

Have you ever seen this quote as a bumper sticker on the back of someone's car? I have! In fact, I have often smiled when I read these words and thought back on the many teachers who have inspired my life and indeed some who may have saved my life. For those of you who do not know, the State of Iowa is changing many facets of the teaching profession. 

On Tuesday, February 7th, I went to a law conference hosted by School Administrators of Iowa in Des Moines. It was a surreal experience when during the last session of the day, a lawyer outlined the proposed changes to Chapter 20 which is what governs collective bargaining, wages and benefits for teachers and a host of other helping services such as nursing, state and city employees (minus policemen and firemen) and post secondary education 2 year and 4 year schools.  It seemed unreal as I listened and watched the faces of other administrators around me.  It kind of reminded me of when I have watched certain movies and would think to myself, "That could never happen!" But it is happening and will go for a vote on February 23rd. It is hard to believe and yet, if I think back on my own personal history of "why" I became an educator, I can understand it. 

I did not become a certified public school teacher until 2004. The reason I chose to leave social work was because I was disgruntled with the public school system.  I have a son with a disability, and because of what he experienced in the public school, I really wanted to make a difference in the lives of kids.  I also "mistakenly thought" I would love to have "June-July-August" off!  Little did I know what I was headed into. (I must add that I have never regretted this decision one minute!)

My first teaching job was creating and directing an Alternative High School from the ground up. The three years I directed Quest High School were some of the most rewarding and yet difficult years of my life. I was not mentally or emotionally prepared for what it took to make a difference in the lives of kids. I began working incredibly long, emotionally exhausting hours that didn't go nine months of the year, but throughout the summer and every weekend. I was surprised to learn that this was so much different than being a social worker, because as a social worker, I really had very little contact with kids. As an educator, I became almost like a surrogate parent who could not quit thinking of and worrying about the students in my care. This is no different than teachers across Iowa and indeed here at Howard-Winneshiek Community Schools. Bottom Line: From the outside, looking into the world of education, it seemed easy, even fun with lots of time off to enjoy my family. What I have found over the last 13 years, is that being an educator is fun, caring for kids at times is never easy, but it can also be extremely rewarding. The teaching profession is one of passion, drive and commitment. 

In the days ahead, as the educational rules of Iowa change and unfold, it is my hope that "if you can read this," you will thank a teacher! At Howard-Winneshiek, our educational staff including our associates, secretaries, nurses, cooks, janitors, coaches and teachers are privileged to serve the community and in spite of challenging times ahead, will never stop caring and doing everything they can to inspire and prepare students for their futures!

Overwhelming Reaction to Social Emotional Learning
Last week I shared the article from the Iowa Department of Education which featured Howard-Winneshiek Community School District and our implementation of supports for students with these unique needs. The response has been overwhelming, and I have  been fielding calls, emails and requests from schools who would love to learn more on this critical subject for student achievement. Jim Flansburg, author of the article, stated he does not remember an article he has shared over the past 10 years which has yielded such an incredible response!

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank our teachers and support staff for all they do in this area.  Back in the day, we used to say, "You can't teach a hungry child." Hungry children coming to school (which we still have - unfortunately) were a top priority.  Today, my thought is that, "You will struggle teaching a child with Social Emotional Learning problems." The big difference between the two is that one is a stomach that can soon be filled. Social Emotional Learning is much more severe in that the child's brain has not developed to the point that the student may struggle with focusing, working memory, waiting their turn and in many cases self-regulation and the ability to manage their emotions.  

Their is scarcely a day that goes by that I don't read, study or watch something on the connectedness of the brain, how it works and how we can create strategies, plans to support teaching the skills to support our children's academic, social and behavioral progress in school.  One blog I have consistently read for over 3 years is from the SOAR Curriculum. Here is the latest post:

Real Learning Changes Your Brain:

When you learn something new, you literally change the physiology of your brain. The new information actually ignites a new brain wire. However, that new brain wire can only be created as an off-shoot from an existing wire (which is the “thing” you already understood).
A spider spinning a web cannot just spit out a string and expect it to stay suspended in thin air.  Instead, every string the spider spins must connect to something else in order for it to be a useful part of the web. The same logic applies to information stored in your “brain wires.”
The one, solid, key to all learning is to make connections to things, ideas, concepts, and emotions that students already understand.
For this reason, we don’t expect a toddler to understand a physics textbook. First, the toddler must learn some basics about physics. “When I let go, things fall to the floor.” As the toddler grows into a young adult, she has millions of experiences and makes millions of observations about how the world around her functions. Meanwhile, her reading skills gradually grow and advance, as well. After many years, she may be able to understand a physics textbook, *if* she’s had enough background to make sense of the advanced vocabulary and concepts described in the book.
The years of growth, from toddler to “proficient reader of physics,” is an ever-evolving process of new brain wires growing out of existing brain wires. Over and over again, ever growing in complexity.

The Success Pyramid is directly correlated with the path information travels in the brain.
Level 1: Confidence –> Region 1: Emotional Center
The first layer of the Success Pyramid tells us that students must be confident in their ability to learn, before any learning can happen. This layer correlates with the Emotional Center of the brain, which is the first brain region to receive all incoming information.
If the Emotional Center senses any kind of threat, it pulls brain chemicals from the other regions of the brain. This process literally shrinks our brain’s ability to learn.
Level 2: Self-Management –> Region 2: Front Brain
The second layer of the Success Pyramid tells us that students must begin to develop self-management skills before they can effectively learn. This includes the ability to work with others and organize themselves. This layer correlates with the Front Brain, which is where information travels, after leaving the Emotional Center.
The Front Brain is the region of the brain that handles all self-management skills. The Front Brain is always at risk of running out of power, so it is optimal to develop communication and organization skills that maximize efficiency.
Level 3: Learning –> Region 3: Back Brain
Finally, we reach the top layer of the Success Pyramid, which is “learning.” This layer correlates with the Back Brain. After the Front Brain evaluates information, it determines where to send signals in the Back Brain.
The Back Brain is where all learning happens. This region thrives on making as many connections as possible; the more connections you can make to things you already understand, the more permanent your learning will be.
A happy student with Howie             

Have a wonderful week!
 Looking forward to Parent-Teacher Conferences on Monday & Thursday! 

Please reach out if you have any questions or concerns!

You can reach me, 
Terese Jurgensen, at or by cell:
(563) 929-6344!

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