• Bridges in Mathematics: Powerful Learning

    Posted by Heather Gorgas on 3/8/2017

     “Where do parents, teachers, and students get the idea that math is just for some people?”  
    Carol Dweck


    As the learning leaders at River Birch Elementary encourage a culture of learning focused on student progress, performance, and learning experiences, we focused our efforts this morning on our math instruction.  Our teachers have embraced a shift in how to present math instruction through our first year of implementation of Bridges in Mathematics.  In doing so, we’ve assumed the role of student as we shift our mindset and challenge our conventional practices in teaching math. This has challenged our pedagogy and many assumptions we’ve made as learning leaders for several decades.  We strive to fulfill our mission to help every child believe they can learn great things, even if they are difficult at first.  Learning math is no exception! 

    Pedagogy is defined as: 

    (noun) the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject 
    or theoretical concept

    Traditional math instruction centered itself on teaching one skill or concept at a time until each child had mastered that concept.  While our teachers worked effectively to accelerate learning for those who acquired new skills quickly and were equally as great to remediate those who needed additional time or teaching, this practice stalled the pace in which children learned new skills.  As we've learned to "trust the bridge" we've realized that the scope and sequence of the program intentionally scaffolds required skills and assesses them at the right time in order for students to find success at the mastery level.  This has required a shift in our pedagogy, or method of teaching, in math.

    Our teachers reported several successes they've observed with our learners this year.  

    They include:

    • Students are more confident.
    • We've observed large gains between pre- and post-assessments - it's working!
    • Number sense is concretely understood at all levels, even with our youngest learners.
    • Fourth grade was not as concerned about the skills assessed on our state exam because our students have a stronger basic understanding of more skills as a result of our instruction.
    • Math vocabulary is explicitly taught with daily transfer to student conversations.

    Our teachers also reported a few challenges they've experienced in our initial implementation. 

    They include:

    • Parent communication and understanding is a continued struggle.  
    • Parents do not understand the process and our shift in execution.
    • Parents do not understand the manner in which the processes and strategies are taught.
    • We lack the time in our day to teach all the program wishes we teach.
    • It's so hard to "trust the bridge"!

    If you read through the successes and challenges, we think you'll notice that many of the successes are experienced by our students.  In contrast, the challenges are primarily focused on the adults. Whether that adult is a parent or teacher, we are challenged by this shift in pedagogy. We realize there are children in our classrooms who struggle with math content, and we understand the concern of their teachers and parents.  That said, we whole heartedly believe through the partnership with teachers and parents, our students will learn despite the program used to teach the content.  In other words, our new math core resource is not the reason a child is struggling. 

    We are committed to learning and partnering with you to ensure the success of our students. As always, we appreciate your efforts to ensure our teachers have the time they need to dialogue, learn, plan, and grow as learning leaders.  


    Partners in your child's education,

    Mr. Kris Kingery, Principal

    Mrs. Heather Gorgas, Assistant Principal


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  • Digging Deeper: Focus on Collaboration & Connected Learning

    Posted by Heather Gorgas on 2/1/2017


    "The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other.  Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives." 

    Robert John Meehan

    Have you ever wondered how we know if the energy we invest on our one hour delays actually benefits our learners?  At River Birch we very much appreciate the trusting partnership we have with you, our families and school community.  This morning we'd like to share some evidence with you that your investment in us is paying off.  In this blog post, you'll see just how impactful the one hour delay sessions are to our instructional practices.  

    If you followed us last semester you know we are learning more about an instructional approach that maximizes student leadership and dialogue in learning.  Not only is this an amazing approach to teaching, especially to our language minorities and children with limited vocabulary, but we know when students discuss and have dialogue about what they are learning they are more engaged and active in the learning process.  If a child is an avid tennis player, but is only allowed to watch passively on the sideline as others play you might wonder how long the passion for tennis will remain.  We feel the same thing about learning!  If children are passive observers of the learning process how long can we expect to maintain their attention?  As a learning leadership team we studied three areas to enhance our instructional planning and learning experiences:  Joint Productive Activity (JPA), Language and Literacy Development (LLD), and Contextualization (CTX).  As a group we studied, discussed, tried new strategies and then came back to share our successes and challenges together.  

    Some of you may be thinking, "Sure, trying something new and talking about it is exciting, but is it working?"  To inform ourselves on the implementation of these instructional practices, we've conducted Look to Learn classroom visits since November.  We find ourselves in February and have now visited each of our classrooms at least once.  It's exciting to share that we have evidence that this practice is visible.  We see students working together and collaborating, we hear high levels of vocabulary along with observed reading, writing, and speaking in our classrooms, and we see our teachers making strong efforts to connect learning to the individual student.  We are excited.  The time, effort, and energy we've spent learning and talking is transferring to our classroom practice.  We'd like to share more with you about how this is happening.

    coaching cycle

    As a parent or community member you may know that we have an Instructional Coach at River Birch.  Actually, we have instructional coaches throughout our district.  Mrs. Melissa Pickens is the instructional coach at River Birch, and since November she's conducted a full coaching cycle with each of our teachers.  Are you wondering what that means?  In the simplest form, teachers meet with the coach in a pre-conference to discuss a lesson idea and they work together to develop it further.  Then, the coach visits the classroom and observes the activity in real time.  To close, the instructional coach and teacher meet together for a reflective post conference to discuss what went well and what adjustments are required to be more effective. An instructional coach is on the job professional development!  How lucky are we?  We are very fortunate to have instructional coaches working side by side with us to help us be the best for our learners every day!


    "When teachers stop learning, so do students." 

    Jim Knight, Author of Instructional Coaching:  A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction

    All this to say that our morning was spent digging deeper with a focus on collaboration and connected learning for our students.  Our teachers chose their instructional journey this morning based on what the students in their classrooms are showing them they need.  Some of our learners are built for collaboration while others need a little practice.  As adults, we realize we are very similar to our students.  While some of us are built for collaboration it takes a little practice for others, and that is okay.  Through this coaching process, individual teacher reflection and planning, and our unified effort during our one hour delays, we are able to dig deeper and ask ourselves difficult questions to help us move forward.  

    This morning, we asked ourselves these questions:

    • How can we focus on collaboration versus cooperation?
    • How can we focus on using student connections as the purpose for a learning experience?
    • How can we be more intentional and less incidental in our lesson design and delivery?  

    As we continue digging deeper to find answers, we hope you'll stay tuned as we share our story along the way.  As always, we appreciate your flexibility to allow us to have the time together to become better leaders of learning.  


    Partners in your child's education,

    Mr. Kris Kingery - Principal

    Mrs. Heather Gorgas - Assistant Principal

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  • Reflective Practice: Improvement Doesn't Happen by Accident

    Posted by Heather Gorgas on 1/10/2017


    We believe River Birch is a pretty special place for several reasons. Those reasons include our learners, families, and community.  We want to highlight our teachers as another reason River Birch is a very special place!  They constantly re-evaluate the learning experiences and opportunities they plan and implement.  As practicing professionals we value the time we have to reflect and plan in order to make our school the best it can be. Why?  One reason:  

    Our kids deserve it! 

    In December we reviewed the new content learned and dialogued about the implementation in our classrooms.  Afterwards, we enjoyed a breakfast together to celebrate a successful semester.  In January, we renewed our commitment to our vision of River Birch in the year 2020.  Our teachers deepened their understanding of a phase-in process to help children be more successful and independent in their learning stations.  In addition we reviewed educational theory and worked to find common ground in the type of learning experiences we offer in all our classrooms.  

    As always, we thank you for the adjustments you make to your morning routine which allows us this time.  As we continue the journey in this school year we'll further focus on Bridges in Mathematics and the 6 Standards of Effective Pedagogy.  If you ever have questions please connect with your child's teacher.  

    Partners in your child's education,

    Mr. Kingery, Principal

    Mrs. Gorgas, Assistant Principal

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  • Contextualization: Who are Our Students?

    Posted by Heather Gorgas on 11/2/2016

    Contextualization:  Who are Our Students?

    Our River Birch Learning Leaders gathered again this morning to continue our learning in the 6 Standards of Effective Pedagogy.  In our previous blog posts we've shared our belief in how important dialogue and collaboration is for our learners.  Joint Productive Activities (JPA) are ways our learning leaders are encouraging student collaboration and co-construction of learning products.  In addition to JPA we've learned more about Language and Literacy Development (LLD).  Elementary school classrooms are ripe for learning about language and literacy, and we've spent time planning to be most intentional about how we activate that learning in our school.  

    This morning, we introduced Contextualization (CTX).  Our teachers were introduced to the construct of contextualization and how student's lives outside the classroom impact learning inside the classroom.  In this professional development session, our teachers were asked to consider how they'll consciously and deliberately create learning experiences that acknowledge, validate, and build upon students' lives and experiences from their homes, communities, and individual cultural backgrounds.  

    How will I strategically create learning opportunities that acknowledge the lives and realities of my students?

    When teachers intentionally design and implement learning as contextualized experiences, they have to think differently about the questions they ask and how they guide students to interact with new and often abstract academic concepts. Teachers who contextualize learning avoid working from assumptions about what students know or have experienced.  Instead, teachers pose questions to their students, encouraging students to explore their own understandings, experiences, and connections.  through students' responses, the teacher and students together move from individual understandings and misconceptions to shared understandings, experiences, and application.  Teachers, therefore, must consciously consider the students they are teaching this year, this day, and in this particular classroom. Contextualized learning asks teachers to leverage their students collective and individual experiences to positively impact school learning.
    Our continued work with Dr. Teemant and Dr. Tyra helps drive the professional learning and evolution of our instructional practices at River Birch. Our learning leaders are committed, dedicated, and there is no doubt in our mind that this occurs in every classroom in our school.  We appreciate the time we have to discuss and collaborate to enhance our current instruction to be better than ever.  
    Credit:  Dr. Serena Tyra & Dr. Annela Teemant
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  • Language & Literacy Development for Academic Growth

    Posted by Heather Gorgas on 10/5/2016

    Language and Literacy Development for Academic Growth

    Dr. Serena Tyra & Dr. Annela Teemant

    This morning during our professional development session our teachers were asked to consider the complexities of language and literacy development in their classrooms. They were introduced to the standard of Language and Literacy Development (LLD). Dalton (1998) listed the characteristics of LLD:

    • Students talk, read, and write in authentic ways.

    • The teacher assists language development through for example modeling, questioning, rephrasing, and clarifying in purposeful reading, writing, and speaking activities.

    • The teacher specifically connects student language with academic language.

    • Students frequently talk and interact with other students in academic settings.

    • Language is taught and used in the classroom.

    • Teachers can purposefully designing activities for language and literacy development for all students and in all content areas.

    Every activity in the classroom requires language and literacy experience. Our teachers are asked to consider the “invisible” nature of language and literacy development. In each lesson, teachers provide implicit and explicit clues as to how a language and literacy task is to be completed. Students who understand the unspoken rules of a classroom task or have prior knowledge of the language and literacy necessary to do the task have an advantage over those students without the required knowledge. All teachers work and consider themselves language and literacy teachers rather than only content area teachers. They are teaching the vocabulary, sentence structures, and discourse patterns of their content areas.. No teacher can afford to ignore the complexities of language and literacy in their subject areas.

    This session spent our time engaging teachers in the analysis of their spoken and unspoken expectations when it comes to understanding and using language.  Again, thank you for the time we receive on our one hour delays for professional development.  

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  • Student Leadership Convocation - September

    Posted by Heather Gorgas on 9/9/2016

    Friday September 9, 2016

    Student Leadership Convocation for September




    At River Birch our learning leaders are united and committed to providing the education every child needs along with the life and learning experiences they deserve!  Today we held our first student leadership convocation of the year.  It was titled Watch Me Lead, because we believe every child is a leader and can make a positive contribution to our school family. 

    If you’ve been a part of our school family in the past you know we’ve celebrated Success Willpower Attitude and Goals (SWAG) in our students.  While we still recognize those traits in our school, we’ve evolved and no longer make that the central focus of our positive behavior efforts.  Instead, we’ve shared four rules that all learners can share:

    Every day, inside and beyond our classrooms, the students in our school work hard to demonstrate positive actions and choices.  Today we communicated how students can earn leaves for their individual leaf collections, and how we’d celebrate their accomplishments.  We’ll share more with you very soon about our first leaf collection challenge which concludes on September 30th

    At the dinner table or in the car ask your child:

    1. What are the River Birch rules?
    2. How do you earn a leaf for your collection?
    3. How many leaves do you need to earn to participate in the celebration?
    4. What are some ways you show leadership at school?


    Here are some ways our students are demonstrating leadership currently:

    Kindergarten:  Mrs. Prewitt’s class are 4-star leaders in the hallways.  Ask your child what this means!

    1st Grade:  Mrs. Stewart has bilingual language leaders in her classroom who are helping a new student access learning in their classroom.

    2nd Grade:  Mrs. Mirise’s class is leading a recycling effort to collect bottle cap lids.  Once they have enough they’ll take them to a meltdown facility and we’ll create brand new Buddy Bench for our playground.  Every kid deserves someone to play with at recess!

    3rd Grade:  Mrs. Kennard’s class is finding individual passion in order to serve, contribute, and MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

    4th Grade:  Our Ambassadors will lead learning in K-3 classrooms beginning next week! 


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  • Leadership & Learning 09.07.2016

    Posted by Heather Gorgas on 9/8/2016
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  • Leadership & Learning 08.03.2016

    Posted by Heather Gorgas on 8/3/2016


    Leadership & Learning:  August 3, 2016


    Welcome to our Leadership & Learning blog!  We are happy you've found yourself on our homepage, and we want you to know more about our leadership and learning at River Birch. Each month we'll update our blog with a post about the hard work we accomplish during our one hour delay for professional development.  

    On the first Wednesday of the month we engage in professional learning as a community of learning leaders.  Did you know the one-hour delay for professional development is the only time we are together as a K-4, related arts, and special education staff for longer than 30 minutes?  We value our time together, and want you to know we sincerely appreciate the arrangements you make in order to help us with the time.   

    This morning we dedicated time and energy to communicating our vision and engaging in dialogue about our core values.  We led a conversation and reflection on our core belief that to be a learning leader at River Birch means we are united and committed to providing the education every child needs along with the learning and life experiences they deserve. The learning experiences a child receives in our school are highly intentional and designed with a child in mind.  We adhere to, meet, and often times exceed the minimum grade level requirements outlined by the Indiana Academic Standards.  In addition, we work diligently to make sure school is a place where kids connect, engage, and enjoy the process of learning.   

    Another critical part of our foundation at River Birch is the 6 Standards of Effective Pedagogy.  We’ve trained nearly half our teaching staff in the pedagogy while supporting all others through local learning in sessions like today.  Our teachers are taking risks and modeling for students that life will not always be easy, but trying new things – even if we fail - makes life a little more exciting!  You’ll hear more about our journey with the pedagogy as we isolate and focus on individual standards during our future professional development days.   

    We invite you to partner with us to make River Birch the very best learning institution in Indiana and beyond.  We are so happy to have you as a part of our learning community, and we are determined in our relentless pursuit of helping every child connect and love coming to school!  


    Partners in your child’s education, 

    Mr. Kris Kingery, Principal (Twitter:  @RBPRincipal) 

    Mrs. Heather Gorgas, Assistant Principal (Twitter:  @Educate_HMG)  

    Make sure to follow us on Twitter as we share glimpses of leadership and learning during our school day! 

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