Friday, October 30, 2015

Getting to Greatness with Todd Whitaker - in Emmetsburg!

Join Us!!

To register, click here. Registration deadline is Jan. 8, 2016. 
Maximum number is 350 people. No refunds.
More info:

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Letter & Reflection on Academic Rigor

A letter to our teachers:

What are your thoughts on reflection? 

I've realized I reflect often whether it is through coursework, professional reading, by the request of Mr. Woiwood, together with many of you, etc. Below I am sharing a recent reflection, which is as a result of Assessing Academic Rigor, a class Mr. Myers and I just completed to continue our education and maintain our Evaluator licenses. I would greatly appreciate you giving it a read, and I would love any feedback you can provide me - this, that, or otherwise.

Background: This class is by far one of the best classes I have been through because it forced me to look deeply into what we are asking our students to do. Are we just scratching the surface of their cognitive abilities OR are we digging deeply and getting them to think at complex levels? What do you think about your own classroom and what you ask students to do? What could you do to take your students to the next level?

At the MS & HS levels, our Titan's JAM/PRIDE is a direct reflection of how deeply and complexly we are asking students to cognitively process.
(I go into more detail in my reflection.)
Elementary, I thought I'd share with you (as a parent) because I mention my children. I always hope that each day they are in your care, they are being challenged, meeting standards, reflecting metacognitively at your direction, that they are provided with frequent and inspiring feedback, and of course making gains. So far, I am confident that my children are being challenged! Thank you!!

Thank you to all of you PK-12 for showing up each day, reaching into your box of tools--growing that repertoire, challenging yourselves to be positive, professional, and effective, and most importantly making a difference through your impact on colleagues, students, parents, and community. On any given day, you are on the frontlines putting out fires, taking care of student emergencies that pop up, and giving all you have to motivate students to take charge of their learning.

Reflection is one of the most important things we can do as professionals and one of the most important things we can ask our students to do.

Thank you for your time in reading this; there's nothing really profound, just a regular reflection... thoughts about where I am, where I think we are, where we need to be... and for any of you who would like to respond - I love the insights you each offer.


Day Four Reflective Journal – 
Assessing Academic Rigor
Name: Teresa Alesch

What do you find interesting about the student work samples on the NAEP site and how might you use this information with teachers?
Our students think alike. :) The rubrics for the assessment are useful. Using these student work samples could be helpful in PLC work session time and in regular PD - comparing level of student work, assessment standards, types of questions, etc.

On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) I would rate my confidence with assessing rigor as a …
2 -- I have much to learn. It takes me some time to think through each step. Even in my conversation with Lois just now, we were talking about a very basic lesson, LOW level, and she and I together were hitched up wondering if it might be higher because of a step the students would take. Once you said to APPLY, you must follow a series of steps in a specific order, I thought, AH-HA! I knew that! SO, like you said, it will take a great deal of practice-practice-practice. In the short time I've been looking at rigor from this changed perspective, I have come to understand a great deal. The conversations with just two groups of my teachers so far have been beyond enlightening!

I will take the following steps to continuing building my confidence with assessing rigor:
I plan to continue practicing with my PLC groups, having them take turns aligning lessons. We’ll start by charting their objectives, instructional tasks, formative assessments, and summative assessments, AND THEN, we will begin working together to build those lessons not only into Quadrant D but also into interdisciplinary lessons with multiple teachers collaborating. We’ll reference the NAEP to check ourselves throughout the course of the year. As I mentioned in class, our Titan’s Journey of Academic Mastery and Titan’s PRIDE is a critical assessment not only of what students have mastered, but also, how teachers have instructed and how principals have led.

If I am honest with myself, I am not yet satisfied that we are consistently enacting a rigorous curriculum and challenging students to routinely think at complex levels. I will be challenging my staff to reflect upon what we are asking students to do, what students are doing, and whether or not we are “there” yet. We can, and will do better. 

The more Quadrant D learning, the more prepared our students will be to face complex challenges! The image below helps us to better understand what we want our students to be able to do.

Image Credit: San Marcos High School
I used to think that curriculum alignment was this… but now I think curriculum alignment is this…
That is an interesting one. I think my understanding or lack thereof has always been off in a distant fog! Years ago, I would have said curriculum alignment is the same as scope and sequence. More recently I would say curriculum alignment is still scope and sequence as it relates to the ICC and mastery as far as the student’s proficiency goes. NOW, I understand curriculum alignment to be related directly to Rigor and Relevance - with objectives, instruction, and assessment all in alignment with the level of thinking throughout the lesson or unit. If we are on track educating our students, then our curriculum is to be aligned and students should be growing from the timely and frequent feedback they receive from teachers.

Neither my teachers nor I should ever settle for less. There is always work to be done - if we are not improving, than we are stagnating. 

Image Credit: San Marcos High School
How often do ask our students to both think and work? Are we getting beyond the simple tasks of memorization? Are the tasks we are asking students to do tasks that extend beyond the classroom?

You are at a SIAC meeting where it is shared that the school is focusing on increasing rigor for students. A parent asks, what do you mean when you use the word rigor and your response is…
Rigor is really about academic and cognitive GRIT. By our definition here at G-T, Rigor is the expectation that students will be able to perform at levels of cognitive complexity necessary for proficiency at each grade level. We want students to be able to master the skills and competencies needed to be successful in post-high school endeavors and the world of work.

The parent then asks, why is increasing rigor important and your response is …
When I think about my own children and the education they are receiving, I want them to be challenged at school to mirror real life problems that you and I face on a daily basis. I want my children to be efficient problem solvers who are able to think on their feet and come up with multiple solutions to any given situation. I want them to be able to act. To me, rigor and the confidence to take action go together. It’s very important we provide our students with complex challenges to prepare them for the “real world.” I sincerely want my children's teachers to challenge their thinking and push their limits; as an educational leader, I am leading from this perspective... or at least attempting to!

Growing is rigorous work: 
for us as professionals, 
for students as young learners, 
and for people in general.

Friday, January 23, 2015

8th Gr. Exploratory designed a city and 
held a city council meeting using parliamentary procedures. 
Higher order thinking on display in Mrs. Fisher's classroom!

via Instagram

G-T Learning Walk

Student designed and built computer! 
A self-directed learning project. 
What a great Titan's 
J.A.M. Artifact!
(Journey of Academic Mastery) 

Discussion on soil in our Agriculture Department. 
Did you know Iowa's has some 
of the best farmland in the nation, 
perhaps the world? Students and Mrs. Graham discussing WHY.

Metals class with Mr. Hough - working on a go cart lift.

 The other Mr. Hough's P.E. class 
in a competitive game of broom ball.

Students discussing the idea of norms
and laws in Mr. Fulton's Sociology class.

Algebra students practicing for a quiz over finding unknowns.
Each student has a white board to practice the equations 
before going over them as a class. 

Students in Mr. Quinn's Graphic Design class 
working on connecting the alphabet with images.

Mr. Quinn demonstrating drawing techniques for portraits.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

G-T Learning Walk

Bell-to-bell studies with students practicing factorization. 
Love to see hard work and peer collaboration, 
especially during the last few minutes of class.
Great work, Mr. Harder's Algebra II!

Individual band lesson with Mr. Pedersen.

Mr. Benedict using a video to illustrate the concept of DNA Replication.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

If you want to be better today than you were yesterday...

If you want to be better today than you were yesterday...
Walking through the quiet school today, I noticed a quote our MS students at Graettinger-Terril Community School District put up for others to see. It reads, "Judging a person doesn't define who they are; it defines who you are." ~Unknown
When I read that, it reminded me of our Every 15 Minute program from the spring of 2012...It reminded me of the day we lost Uncle Joe Kliegl to a massive heart attack...It reminded me that life is too short to allow the darkness to overshadow and smother the light...It reminded me that we choose who we are...It reminded me that I define myself, and that what others say is more about them than it is about me or you or the next person...It reminded me that I can make a difference, and that our students ARE making a difference. Finally, it reminded me of ALL the people who came together and worked very, very hard to positively impact our young people's lives.
I remember that day and especially what our actors and their parents went through: Mitch Girres, Baylee Marie Clayton, Maisey Ryanne Matthews, Morgan Matthews, Blaze Alesch -- Thank you, by the way, your commitment to that program had a very large impact on so many people.
After my previous post about the Facebook Defamation Case involving a 7th grade boy and his parents, I have renewed my commitment to making a positive difference (and not running from the negative presence, whether online or in person). I want to in advance thank those who are with me. Our kids are our future, after all. Remember, our days are numbered...
I felt I had to post again today because of the Verse that was waiting for me on my phone this morning -- I wanted to share it with YOU: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
Image Credit:
We have but only One qualified to judge any one of us. Imagine the world if we tried a little harder to walk in someone else's shoes, tried a little harder to ice [silence] our tongues which are burning insult and assumption, tried a little harder to bring light and shed warmth instead of turning away and offering cold shoulders. Simply trying, I am convinced, would be a good start.
"When you don't get the chance to say goodbye," what type of legacy do you want to leave behind? What type of leader, role model, parent, friend, colleague, etc. do you want to be? And finally -- Remember: You don't have to let the condescending voice of gossip define who you are or who your children are. That is up to you and only you. We ALL have room for improvement; that's all that needs to be said.
Daniel Pink, author of "Drive," says that the most successful people ask two things before going to sleep each night. I did this without fail before cancer knocked me down...and then, unfortunately, I lost focus and it got lost in the shuffle.
Cancer and all that accompanies it LOST; I plan to begin again -- these questions will "DRIVE" me:
1) How have I made a difference...How am I better today than I was yesterday?
AND 2) What's my sentence, my legacy?

How about you?

Thanks for reading and stay warm!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

On: In Unprecedented Decision, 7th Graders’ Cruel Facebook Bullying Might Actually Cost – The Parents

A recent post to my Facebook page I thought was worthy of sharing...

Warning: This is real and happening more often than we pick up on. And it does happen around here. Social Media, with Facebook and beyond, is a vast land where all sorts of hate, scorn, judgement, and criticism -- cast through the ill will of an individual -- drown victims and pull down bystanders. A larger concern is that our kids not only learn this from TV and like media but also from the adults and role models in their lives (this may or may not include you as a parent or associated adult, that is up to you to reflect upon).

Adults more and more are using Facebook to cast judgement, to throw stones, whether directly or indirectly (more often indirectly), whether toward individuals or organization, so quick to point out the faults and skeletons of others. What good does this bring?

I believe the world is changing and it seems more and more people strive to divide than to unify, break down than to build up, kick rather than help. As it relates to this Facebook news brief, understand that in education, parents, we are trying to keep up with the evolution of technology, even the evolution of human nature.

Society and education need your help in monitoring what our kids are doing online, as well as what they are doing offline -- they both carry the same weight because on or off line, the behavior is the same. We need your help in showing the way, modeling qualities of critical thinking, problem solving, and most importantly today, conflict resolution. And, of course setting limits and having the difficult conversations you might remember our parents having with us once upon a time. Though they don't always want us, they need us, the structure - the village.

I recently wrote a Facebook Note (that I haven't shared) -- it's purpose was to let my friends and family know why I no longer frequent Facebook, maybe I'll still post it. My reservation is due to the number of people who may be offended as it is difficult to separate my personal opinion from my professional, but maybe that shouldn't matter when it comes to attempting to differentiate behaviors that make society better from behaviors that don't -- it all comes down to problem solving and conflict resolution.

Essentially what I am saying is I'm not sure Facebook is the place to air dirty laundry, to attack individuals and organizations, and to simply complain. Again, what purpose does this serve? Of course, anyone can choose not to follow these types of news feeds, but what I’m proposing is modifying our own behavior to help our children learn healthy ways of interacting with others, of resolving conflict. Leadership is needed in this area! A great deal of leadership!

[For those whose inner chatter is going a mile a minute ready to pounce, "Who in the heck does she think she is, sending this message? Thinking she’s high and mighty? She’s no better than the rest of us. She’s just as flawed as the next! Yea, yea, yea!!" You are RIGHT.]

I am one person, who undoubtedly and humanly make mistakes, but I know my purpose resides in leadership and education. JFK said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to one another.” Thus, even though I am still a toddler in educational leadership taking in my surroundings, adjusting, living, and learning-inevitably falling down and getting back up, I absolutely believe JFK had it figured out: "The problems with this world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need people who can dream of things that never were." [John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)]

JFK's beliefs relate to so many problems in life. Together, we can accomplish much, much more. Instead of picking up stones, let's put them together to build a better world. Remember, to build a structure of this sort, it takes many hands, commitment to the goal, and time; it takes a willingness to refrain from judgement and scorn by taking a step back and listening to that inner chatter always circulating in our heads and then doing something constructive with it.

Think before you post. Think before you act. Is it helpful or hurtful? Consider all the eyes watching and learning from your lead (whether online or off). Each of us is a leader - parent, educator, banker, farmer, community member alike. Each of us powerful. What is your purpose? What will you do with your power?

To the video: 
In Unprecedented Decision, 7th Graders’ Cruel Facebook Bullying Might Actually Cost – The Parents

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Principal's Letter - Expectations

Dear Students, Parents, Community Members, and other Supporters,

I would like to welcome you to Graettinger-Terril Middle and High Schools. 

My vision: Through positive relationships and high expectations, we will create a dynamic learning environment where our students will learn, grow, and achieve; with each interaction, they will become more today than they were yesterday. Their efforts here today will help them achieve personal success tomorrow throughout their post-secondary adventures of college, work, and community.
Academically, we want our students to be high achievers.
Civically, we want our students to be contributors.
Socially, we want students to be people of character.
By and large, we want our students to be leaders
“Doing well in school requires that children understand what is expected of them” (Straight Talk About Schools Today: 101 Q&As for Parents - Understand the System and Help Your Child Succeed, 2007).

Image Credit:

At G-T MSHS, we will show students how much we care for them through our expectations of them. We expect our students to take rigorous courses. We expect them to show up, show up on time and consistently. We expect students to be present and self-disciplined. We expect them to respect one another. We expect parents to be equal partners in their children’s learning.

We expect our students to do their best not by trying their hardest but by doing all they can!

It is important for everyone to understand that meeting the needs of all students is no easy task - but we are a school that values different learning styles and we strive to provide lessons that inspire students to seek the answers. They will do this by coming to class, looking for learning objectives, fully engaging themselves, and challenging themselves to grow and achieve.


Image Credit:
A challenge we are working to overcome: Attendance. Students have to not only be in school, but they have to be on time every period, every day, and be present mentally.

It is hard work learning! As a student, the day I figured out the fact that [only] I was responsible for my learning, growth, and achievement, my ability to conquer my academic goals grew drastically. Really!! I was a struggling learner...It took me hours to prepare for little ten-point quizzes -- comprehension just didn’t come easy to me. I gave up easily and sometimes made excuses for my poor performance. Learning truly requires effort.

Today, we have everything at our fingertips; there has never been a library so vast for students to draw knowledge from. It is up to each individual to be a seeker and not a runner or a blamer. It is up to each individual to take responsibility for his/her own learning, problems, and mistakes. It is up to each individual to ask questions and self-advocate. Again, learning is hard work.

I invite you to join us here at G-T MSHS. Our doors are always open for you to come in and take a peek into our classrooms. Parents, it is very important for you to know what your child is learning and I encourage you to take an active role in supporting students and teachers in creating the the best learning environment imaginable! I ask you, parents, to frequently visit our Infinite Campus Parent Portal to be informed of your child’s progress.

Besides high expectations, I am looking for students to develop a stronger sense of ownership and PRIDE in themselves, their school, and their G-T community. I want you and every staff member to be proud of the great things happening here at G-T MSHS.

Image Credit:
What's New: G-T a Complaint Free Zone?
We kicked off the 2014-2015 school year with an international bestselling author and renowned speaker, Will Bowen, founder of “A Complaint Free World.” He challenged us to GRIPE…NO MORE! and take on the complaint free challenge.

In a nutshell: There are five reasons people complain:
G - Get attention
R - Remove responsibility
I - Inspire envy
P - Power
E - Excuse poor performance

Ultimately, we want to find better ways to handle the “GRIPES” we have by being more solution-oriented problem solvers and by taking problems DIRECTLY to the one person or organization who can help resolve the problems through efficient, unpolluted communication. Gripe less, complain less, criticize less, and definitely gossip less. Better yet, stop. Your mental, emotional, and physical well-being will thank you. These negative solutions are counterproductive and spread negative toxins around what could be a very healthy school and community (and YOU). We want our young people to approach problem-solving in constructive, proactive ways. I believe that we each are one of two things at any given moment: part of the problem or part of the solution. In the spirit of being honest in reflection, where do you find typically find yourself? You can only be one.

Image Credit:
Graettinger-Terril CSD has been designated a Complaint Free Zone. We will work collectively to solve problems and maintain our focus on student development, learning, and achievement. As adults in our students lives, we will be positive role models - in our homes, in our communities, and digitally. They look to us!

My promise to each of you: I promise to be a caring, stable leader in the lives of our students as well as to create a school culture focused upon positive attitudes and academic excellence. I promise to provide our students with opportunities to learn, opportunities to meet and exceed high expectations, opportunities to be leaders, and opportunities to help others. I promise to hold high expectations for myself, my staff, my students, my parents, and my community stakeholders and through which---working together always wins as opposed to working against one another.

What I cannot do: I cannot "show up" for our students, I cannot do the work for our students, and I cannot take responsibility for student responsibilities. I cannot set the atmosphere at home that school is priority, that solution-oriented communication is key, and that personal success is dependent upon the habits we begin building when we are young. I cannot make choices for students, for parents, or for community members.

What you, Parents and Community, can do: These young people are truly the future of America - our next doctors, lawyers, scientists, educators, politicians, police officers... We want our future citizens to be strong, civic-minded, and high achieving adults of character and leadership; and so, parents and community, I look to you.

Yours in education,
Teresa Alesch
6-12 Principal
Graettinger-Terril CSD

P.S. I hope you find our district website useful. Our new website is still under construction, but we are working on improving all of our communication tools and are always open to constructive feedback. I plan to communicate regularly via this blog, Principal Persistence. If you have any questions, please give us a call - 712-859-3286, email, or stop by the school.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

As a Team, We Unite!

First, I want to thank our student body for our respectful behavior while Mr. Samuel Marder was speaking yesterday. I gave you one job and that was to listen with all of your attention on the speaker. Most of you received an A+ - - - Thank you for being engaged, asking questions, and also for starting the standing ovation! Thank you for making everyone proud. You represented us well.

As a team, we unite.

What does your team stand for? 
Image Credit:
When I speak of team, I include all of you - from the 8th grade team, the band, the FFA, the Student Council, the staff team to our athletic teams, etc. 
What does your team stand for?

What behaviors and actions can you guarantee within your team?Are they the right ones? Are they ones that will lead your group to success? Are those behaviors and actions ones that build PRIDE, TRADITION, and a POSITIVE REPUTATION for your team? What behaviors and actions can you guarantee within your team? 

Are you committed to your team?
Do you commit yourself in word and in action to the principles and values at the core of your team? Are you committed to your team?

Regardless of whether or not you understand the core values of the many teams you are a part of, you are all a part of one large team, the G-T/R-A TITAN TEAM. And this team has a few key core values.

As Titans this year, we have been asked to focus ourselves on being positive by being solution-oriented problem-solvers and efficient communicators - Each of us was challenged by Will Bowen, founder of "A Complaint Free World" and International Bestselling Author, to be #complaintfree for 21 days (for starters). The G-T/R-A staff are all taking strides to be complaint-free. We have yet to see a large number of students take on the challenge, but I'm very happy to know that a small number of you have accepted the challenge. Imagine the success that will follow from a positive outlook and a constructive way to deal with negativity and problems!

In addition to our complaint-free challenge, we received an additional challenge from Mr. Samuel Marder, Holocaust survivor, and that includes the following:
  • Don’t judge others on what they look like, where they come from, who they are, etc …
  • Get to a state of mind to where you treat others with kindness and as your own brothers & sisters. 
  • Live a life of kindness. 
  • Use your power to make the world around you better.
Please remember what Mr. Marder said:
“We are all responsible for each other.
Prejudice is much more dangerous today than it was then.
Kindness will set you free.
As a team, we have a responsibility to one another, regardless of the type of team - 
  • to take our grumblings to the source, instead of spewing negativity all around you.
  • when you have a complaint, bring with it a solution.
  • when you communicate, do so respectfully and in kindness.
  • be less judgemental and more accepting, after all, not one of us in this room is perfect.
  • as Mr. Marder said, don’t judge others at all.
  • take pride in yourself and in others, and make your team, your school, and the world a better place.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like we have much in common with others, other students, other teams or organizations, etc.,
         ....but indeed we do.
   We are one team.

As a team - G-T/R-A Titans - We unite!
                 And when we UNITE, we WIN!


Monday, September 1, 2014


Image credit: Jasper CSD - Jasper, AL

I fortunately stumbled upon the blog post, 25 Ways to Ask Your Kids 'So How Was School Today?' Without Asking Them 'So How Was School Today?' | liZ Evans, and I thought I would share it with all of you. Having parent support is a very important part of our students' academic/cognitive, social/emotional, and behavioral development. When we work together, two-way communicate, and play on the same team, WE and especially OUR students, WIN!

Studies show that when parents are involved in their child's education, when school communicates with home, and when home communicates with school, student engagement (thus acceleration and achievement), student motivation, and student behavior increase dramatically (to name just a couple of sources: descriptive research--Connell & Wellborn, 1991; anecdotal evidence--Mahler, 2011).

On behalf of all staff at Graettinger-Terril, we hope you will talk with your students about their day; as a result of your conversation, we hope you will contact us with questions, concerns, and just as importantly, with celebrations. We want to hear from you!

Coming in a close second to you, we set high expectations and want to see your children succeed! When we are missing something, when we are doing something right, when we can help, when we can support -- please let us know. Starting today, take some time - on the drive, at the dinner table, in between activities, just before bedtime - take some time and talk with your child.

Aside from "25 Ways to Ask Your Kids...", a few other ways to be involved in your student's education here at Graettinger-Terril CSD: check students progress online, provide a structured homework time, establish healthy meal and bedtime routines, and finally, encourage, empower, and enable your student to operate under G-T Titan Time by always Being at the Right Place, At the Right Time, Doing the Right Thing, With the Right People.

25 Ways to Ask Your Kids 'So How Was School Today?' Without Asking Them 'So How Was School Today?' | liZ Evans