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  • March 29, 2023 1:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

    Do you remember your “Why”? 

    By Kefah Ayesh ( KEE-fah)

    As the end of the year slump encroaches my passion, I force myself to remember my why

    My why begins with a little girl who loved to read, yet never found books with any characters that looked like her. She sits in a classroom and sticks out like a sore thumb as the only muslim in her entire school. That little girl is my Why. I write and teach in an effort to amplify the voices of Arab authors and poets, so that other marginalized students can feel a sense of belonging.

    Seeing oneself in the literature that surrounds them is vividly and fiercely affirming, empowering them with the conscience of their own presence. 

    All writers traversing the human condition attempt to tell a story that is uniquely their own, yet unconditionally human. Each of them forging a path that embodies the essence of light, yet so many of those voices are silenced and muddied along the way.  Othered and discarded;  stereotyped and vilified: the arab voice in the typical literature classroom is nothing but an echo of soft cries that falls on deaf ears. Beautiful diction and mesmerizing syntax, seldom uttered in spaces meant to broaden horizons.

    Libraries and literary tradition attest to the presence of Arab voices and their contributions to the field, yet the modern classroom all but negates their existence. Perhaps a daunting endeavor for teachers who already have too much on their plates, so let me help demystify a few things. 

    Arab writers have existed since the 6th century and continue to exist today.  They do not only write about the past and exist on silk roads and ride magic carpets; they are American born and bred and write about a painfully divided existence. They also write about love and hope too.  So why aren't they in your classrooms, speaking their truth?

    Here are a few novel recommendations that vary in genre, lexical difficulty, and themes.

    1. We Hunt the Flame by Hafsa Faizal 
    2. I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti 
    3. The Inheritance by Sahir Khalifa
    4. The Beauty in Her Face by Sahar Mustafah

    In an effort to alleviate some of this pressure, a few resources have been listed below.

    Sometimes, that nagging voice of why is the hardest to reckon with because ultimately it means more work for me, another lesson plan from scratch added on to an already mounting workload. Yet, that nagging why doesn't seem to let up. 

    The literature classroom is a universe of its own. Unlike other disciplines, we hold the responsibility of cultivating students into open-minded, educated citizens of the world.  We do not merely teach vocabulary and grammar, but rather how to construct thoughts into powerful language that will one day pave new pathways that can ultimately make the world a better place.

    Online Book Club


    Study Guide Questions

    Study Guide: I Saw Ramallah

    Study Guide: The Inheritance

    Study Guide: The Beauty of Your Face

    PopMatters article

    Kefah Ayesh ( KEE-fah) is currently a secondary education English teacher and English Department Chair at Al Ghazaly High School. She is pursuing a Masters in English and Writing Studies at Kean University ( May 23), and she’s passionate about inclusivity in literature and amplifying marginalized voices in the classroom. You can connect with her on Twitter @writnginclusive.

  • March 22, 2023 1:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

    Advocacy Day is the Perfect Forum to Show How Literacy and STREAM Learning Collide in Our School Library

    By: Kristy Gilbert

    Some people stumble when they try to decide what to call me and what to call the space I teach in, somehow assuming that the word “library” alone will bring about images of those silent, spiritless rooms of yesterday where kids simply check out books and leave. They aren’t entirely wrong - as a matter of fact, folks outside of the education world are still dumbfounded when I tell them I don’t just check out books all day long! There is a huge misconception as to what school libraries are all about and many people, including lawmakers, are failing to see the power that school libraries have to redefine learning and create learners who thrive on collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. This is exactly why we need events like Advocacy Day. We need a forum that will allow our students a voice to bring awareness to the amazing things happening in our classrooms and in our libraries, especially in times where budgets are being cut and school libraries are disappearing. 

    I see Advocacy Day as a perfect opportunity for my students to showcase just how STREAM learning (we cannot forget the “R” for reading!) has flourished in our school and changed the way we approach literature in our library. Thanks to what I have coined “BlueSTEM Challenges,” our students now do more than just read - they use literature as a springboard to engage and connect with hands-on activities such as creative makerspace projects, engineering challenges, coding, and robotics. The Bluestem Book Award program is a Reader’s Choice Award for 3rd-5th graders in Illinois. Named after our state grass, the Bluestem Award program encourages students to read a variety of diverse and engaging books and then vote for the nominee they feel most deserves the recognition of being named a Bluestem Award winner. In my “BlueSTEM Challenges,” we read a Bluestem book together and follow it up with a STREAM activity designed to help students make connections to and further their understanding of the text. 

    Of course, none of this could be possible without the funding to support our school initiative of bringing more STREAM learning opportunities into the hands of our students. Only when our state lawmakers see the excitement in our students’ eyes as they explain how they have learned to code robots, design and build 3D models, and execute engineering feats will they understand their important role in funding our schools to be the dynamic and engaging hubs of innovation our students need them to be. And maybe… just maybe, they will finally realize that school librarians are not just checking out books all day long but are instead providing learning opportunities that will mold our students into passionate, lifelong learners!


    Kristy Gilbert is a 3rd - 5th grade school librarian in Orland Park. In addition to being the driving force behind her library’s recent recognition as an “Exemplary School Library” by the Association of Illinois School Library Educators (AISLE), she is also an Apple Teacher, an Apple Learning Coach, and an ISTE Certified Educator. Her dynamic library program is centered around the tenets of STREAM Learning, Digital Citizenship, and Information Literacy and has helped earn her school the distinction of being an Apple Distinguished School.  

  • March 15, 2023 12:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

    This is the second post in a series about the impact and importance of Students for Innovation: Advocacy Day. If you’ve never been involved, Ami Young’s blog gives you an idea of what Advocacy Day is and how her students have been able to amplify their voices through Advocacy Day.

    Cardinal Tech and Advocacy Day

    by Ami Young

    My students and I have participated in Advocacy Day for the past few years. This experience is one of a kind for students, which is unique from other tech events. Not only do they get to showcase what they have learned over the school year, but they get to present in a historical location, our Illinois state capitol. This unique experience also allows them to view their peers' presentations and in turn learn new ideas. This opportunity also allows my students to really use their voices to promote what they love and for many builds confidence to come out of their shells and be heard.

    Over the years, my students have presented on many different topics including merge cubes, animation, and unique discussions regarding our T.A.P. (Technology Apprentice Program) club. During Covid, in-person opportunities were limited. That year one of my 7th graders was presented with a unique opportunity in place of Advocacy Day. She presented a topic regarding our Technology Apprentice Program and worked with a provided coach to write a chapter for the Ideas to Amplify Student Voice book that was later published.

    Demonstrating our skills learned from school and our Technology Apprentice Program at Advocacy Day is an amazing opportunity. In addition to presenting at the state Capitol Building, the students are able to build on community and enjoy exploring the state capital and the surrounding area landmarks. Overall, this is a truly remarkable experience for my students. My students still reflect on these unique experiences as young adults.


    Interested in learning more about IDEA's Students for Innovation: Advocacy Day? Click here

    Ami Young is a K-8 Technology, 6-8 Science, STEM, Career & Consumer Concepts teacher at St. Dennis School. She has been teaching for about 26 years, and technology has always been a passion of hers.

  • March 08, 2023 1:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

    Students for Innovation: Advocacy Day is an Illinois Digital Educators Alliance event that has been around for 30+ years, but since it hasn’t been in person since 2019, you may not know what it is or why it is so important and impactful. This is the first post in a weekly series that offers different perspectives on how Advocacy Day is amplifying student voices in a big way and why you should be involved. Our first post is from John Closen who was a superintendent at the time he attended his first Advocacy Day, and he has been a staunch advocate for the day ever since! This year, Advocacy Day will be held on Wednesday, May 10. Find out more and apply to attend here.

    Students for Innovation: Advocacy Day….or Tech20xx

    By John Closen

    Approximately 35 years ago I remember receiving some type of notice about an event called Tech 22xx being held in Illinois.  Being some sort of tech geek, this caught my interest.  I decided to look into it.  It was a concept that I thought was amazing.  I decided that I was going to get my students involved. Since I was a school superintendent at the time, it was easy to “persuade” my principals to participate.

    In the late nineties our idea of technology was pretty basic, but many of our students were excited about anything new that involved technology.  I don’t even remember what type of project we presented.  It didn’t matter.  What mattered then, and still matters today, is the look on the students’ faces as they stood next to their projects and answered questions the many politicians, fellow presenters, and news media directed at them.  Every time I attend this event, the building is filled with excitement and enthusiasm.  I see students beaming, teachers that are proud of their students, and adults who are filled with curiosity about the projects and what role the students played in creating the projects.

    Over the years I have been asked why schools should be involved in this event.  Aside from the impact it has on students, there are many other reasons.  By participating in this event, local politicians get a chance to visit with the students and teachers to find out what is going on in the school community.  School leaders from around the state are given the opportunity to see what other schools are doing with technology and this can generate more enthusiasm for more projects.  ISBE leaders can come and see what the schools are doing with funds given to them. News media, both locally and in Springfield, can help create additional publicity that informs the local school’s community what they are accomplishing in their schools.  It is positive PR for everyone!

    Finally, it has a positive impact on the many, many people who help make this event possible.  I know, because I am a past Chair of the Tech 20xx Committee, a past President of IDEA, and a current cheerleader for this event.  Thank you to IDEA and to the Students for Innovation: Advocacy Day/Tech 20xx Committees for all of your efforts over the years. 

    John Closen is a retired school superintendent, a retired university professor, and a former Director of the Area III Learning Technology Center.  He has also served on the board of Directors for the Illinois Digital Educators Association (IDEA) and the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA).  He continues to work in the area of education by facilitating digital skills classes for the Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois.

    Students for Innovation: Advocacy Day 2023 will be held on May 10. Learn more and apply here.

  • March 01, 2023 12:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

    Teacher-led to Student-led SEL:

    Sunnybrook School District's Success Story with moozoom, a teacher’s perspective

    By Amanda Alderfer

    4th grade teacher

    Social and emotional learning (SEL) has, in the last years, become a hot topic in education. With rising safety concerns and the pandemic’s devastating effects on children’s mental health, educators are realizing it's crucial that schools find an effective SEL program that can be implemented easily and quickly. Our district was in search of such a program when we discovered moozoom at the ISTE conference in 2021. After using the program for 60 days, we have already seen positive outcomes worth sharing.

    One of the main challenges we were facing when it came to SEL was the lack of student engagement. Traditional teacher-led lessons can be difficult for students to relate to, and this can lead to disengagement and even mockery. moozoom addresses this issue by providing bite-size “choose your own adventure” real-life movies where students can observe other kids' behaviors and various options on how to react to everyday challenges. 

    Another challenge we faced was the limited expertise of our teachers to deliver SEL and the potential increase in their daily workload in fully implementing a program. moozoom addresses this issue by being easy to use and requiring no training or preparation time. Teachers can just go in, print out questions, look at the videos and get started with the lessons. All were thus able to integrate moozoom into our weekly routines within the first couple of weeks. Our teachers reported that they felt confident enough to start allowing more time than they had before to deliver SEL in class. 

    moozoom also includes a student skill assessment dashboard that allows us to track quick improvements in our school climate. We noted a significant increase in student engagement, with 96% of teachers reporting an increase in engagement during lessons. Teachers have also reported being able to reduce their SEL lesson planning by more than 75% and have seen a decrease in student conflict by 25%.

    To sum up, the integration of moozoom in Sunnybrook School District 171 has greatly improved the fidelity and quality of SEL instruction in the district. The platform has reduced the stress associated with preparation, training, and expertise, and as a result, teachers have been more than willing to incorporate SEL into their lessons. 

    Within 60 days, positive results have been observed and this program is worth considering for other schools and districts seeking to enhance their SEL programs.

    Check out moozoom's free SEL movies by clicking here.

  • February 22, 2023 3:00 PM | Heather (Administrator)

    Ideas From Our First IDEAcon

    by Tisha Richmond and Lainie Rowell

    Have you ever walked into a space and immediately felt welcome and at home? Maybe you even take a deep breath and think, “I belong here.” That’s how we felt as we entered IDEAcon 2023. 

    It was a first for both of us, and we couldn’t help but make the connections to ideas that we, as educators, can take from this event and implement in our learning communities. Here are some of our takeaways:

    A Welcoming and Energetic Vibe
    First impressions do set the tone and, at IDEAcon, both the space and the people are heartwarmingly inviting! Convention centers, like an empty classroom, can be pretty cold and impersonal by default. The way the IDEAcon team worked with the space is a direct reflection of how much they care about those coming to learn and share. Here were a couple of our favorite design choices:

    • Signage: When we enter a space for the first time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious. It sounds so simple, but making it clear where we can go and what we can do can make all the difference. Throughout the conference center large signs were prominently displayed in the conference theme to help us navigate our learning journey. (e.g. registration, session titles/times, and learning spaces options). 

    • Energy: The energetic vibe was palpable and it echoed in every space we entered. The colors and playful design evoked joy and laughter, conference organizers were welcoming and helpful, and attendees were excited to learn and connect. It was social and emotional contagion in the best way! 

    Dr. Adam Phyall stands in front of the staircase at IDEAcon. The stair stickers create an image on the bottom from left to right of the IDEA logo, the IDEAcon logo, a hand with the pointer finger pointing up the stairs, and on the top of the image are the IDEA lightbulb, the Rival 5 logo, and a text box that says, “Welcome.”

    Spaces to Gather and Spaces to Think Independently 

    While we both advocate for inquiry and collaboration, we also know that some learners (us included) need independent-thinking time too. We appreciated that we could readily find spaces for both throughout the conference center. 

    • Collaboration: There were couches and sitting areas for small group conversation throughout the conference center and hotel. We loved that these spaces were close enough to get to easily, but tucked away from the session hallways so you could take a break when needed as well as gather at the end of a long day of learning.

    • Game Play: In the center of the expo hall was an area that would capture any board game players’ heart. Freestanding shelves stacked with a variety of game choices framed an area of round tables that were ready for play. Like video games instead? They thought of that too. An area was set up with couches, bean bag chairs, giant TV’s and video consoles. We loved how both areas allowed for connection, play, and an opportunity to recharge.

    • Makerspace: The Makerspace area was another brilliant space in the expo hall. Wood tables were ready for making. Shelves were stocked full of materials, drills, safety goggles, and more. Cricket machines were ready for creation. Each time we walked by, this area was buzzing with creative excitement. 

    • Zen Den: As wonderful as it is to connect and socialize at conferences, sometimes you just need a little time to step away from it all. This quiet room tucked away was the perfect place to find some solitude. We also love the backstory- The Zen Den was born as a result of asking self-identified introverts what they would like to see at a conference. 

    A tweet from Tisha Richmond @tishrich that says, “This game area at #IDEAcon was incredible! What a brilliant idea for bringing educators together to connect and play! And, look at this selection of games to choose from! The mind blown emoji is after the text. #MLmagical. The pictures show Tisha in front of one of the game shelves, a game shelf on it’s own, and the tables in the Game On! play area with games at tables and attendees playing at tables.

    Need more inspiration for a redesign? Check out this Edutopia article by Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray, Cheap (Yet Valuable) Learning Space Redesign.  

    Encourage Prosocial Behavior and Amplify All Voices 

    At this event, it is clear from the moment you get there that you are more than an attendee, you are a contributing member in this dynamic learning community. 

    • “Little Free Library” - One of the first spaces we noticed was all about promoting prosocial behavior. The “Take a book. Share a book.” space was inspired by the nonprofit, Little Free Library. This organization focuses on building community, inspiring readers, and expanding book access. Imagine having one of these on campus! 

    The IDEAcon IDEA’s Little Free Library sign next to the table for people to take a book, leave a book, or to sit and read.
    • Meeting of the Minds - Each morning thought leaders, Mario Herraez, Alberto Herraez, Scott Bricker, Jeni Long, and Sallee Clark began with a Meeting of the Minds following the keynote. Each day focused on a different topic followed by questions that people discussed in small groups. Powerful conversations were had by all!

    • Poster Sessions - Sometimes you want to learn new ideas by chatting with your peers one-on-one. The poster sessions held in the ballroom allowed for discussion surrounding topics and areas of interest. It was a fabulous opportunity to make new connections and brainstorm ways to apply the ideas into classroom learning.

    • Podcasting Station - The podcasting area was another brilliant space set up in the middle of the expo floor. Podcasters could schedule a time to interview guests and amplify voices. It was also a wonderful opportunity for aspiring podcasters to chat with hosts to learn tips and tricks and discuss the best platforms and equipment.

    • Doodle & Chat - Outside of the ballroom Carrie Baughcum & Mandi Tolen interviewed conference speakers and attendees while they doodled the conversation in the style of their Doodle & Chat show. It was fun to be able to see the doodles in action as they projected it to be seen as people walked by. Another innovative way to amplify voices!

    A tweet from Dr. Sawsan Jaber, NBCT @SJEducate that says, “Leyden student journalists..Day One [emoji checkmark]...Tune in for their video compilation tomorrow morning! @leydenpride212 @ideaillinois #IDEAcon.” The pictures show the student journalists in various places around the convention center at IDEAcon.

    There are even more ideas we could share! And if you weren’t able to join this year, we encourage you to come and see for yourself next year!

    Some of these ideas take more time, effort, and/or resources than others, but no matter what, we love being welcomed by warm smiles from people (kids and adults) who are genuinely happy to see us. And this doesn’t cost a thing! 

    Can you bring any of these ideas into your space to make learners feel welcome, nurture a sense of belonging, and activate learning?

    About the authors:

    Lainie Rowell is an educator, international consultant, writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. She is the lead author of Evolving Learner, a contributing author of Because of a Teacher, and her latest book, Evolving with Gratitude, was just released. An experienced teacher and district leader, she is dedicated to building learning communities and her areas of focus include learner-driven design, social-emotional learning, online/blended learning, and professional learning. Since 2014, Lainie has been a consultant for the Orange County Department of Education's Institute for Leadership Development. Learn more about Lainie and see highlights of her work

    Tisha Richmond is an innovative district Student Engagement & Professional Development Specialist, international speaker, Canva Learning Consultant, Canva Education Creator, podcast host, and author of the book Make Learning MAGICAL: Transform Your Teaching and Create Unforgettable Learning Experiences in the Classroom. Tisha is passionate about infusing joy, passion, play, and gamified strategies to immerse and empower our 21st century learners and make learning a MAGICAL experience for all!

  • February 08, 2023 11:30 AM | Heather (Administrator)

    Using Game Design & Gamestormers to Teach Any Subject

    When I present ideas about how to design games to various organizations and educators, a common question pops up: but how does game design fit MY subject area or age level?

    Incredibly, game design and playful learning integrate seamlessly into teaching just about anything. In game design, the maker focuses on one goal – creating a fun and thought-provoking system full of interesting choices. When trying to teach a skill or piece of knowledge, learners want to know how this new understanding fits into a larger system, what decisions the information might influence, and how it might be intriguing to them personally. Sound familiar?

    Below, I’ll share a few of my favorite ways to incorporate game design and playful learning into any subject, and how you can utilize our new board game, Gamestormers, to do it!

    1. Create Concept Cards

    One of the best ways to have learners demonstrate their understanding is through making connections between terms, ideas, people, and information. In games, we often represent the relationship between these concepts as abilities and options listed on cards within the game world. Combining these two ideas into one makes for a fantastic method for students to think critically about what they are learning.

    To implement this practice, find a good blank card template to use online or print out, such as the Gamestormers Blank Card Template. Then, have your learners choose a handful of concepts from the most recent unit to connect with each other. As the students decide what concepts to turn into cards, they can begin brainstorming what each card might do for its ability and how it interacts with other cards. Some good brainstorming questions might include:

    • If this person, character, or idea was in a game, what would its special ability be?
    • What might be the “currency” or commodity this concept would affect (energy, money, influence, etc)?
    • How does one concept positively or negatively influence another?

    Once learners finish their cards, they can write, reflect, or discuss their rationale behind the abilities and powers they gave each concept for its card, and how the various cards affect each other.

    2. Use Visual Dice and Cards as Assessment Prompts

    It is really easy to fall into the standard assessment involving multiple choice questions, essay questions, and short answer prompts. However, getting students to apply what they have learned to visuals and related concepts can serve to not only challenge their understanding, but also their critical thinking and creativity as well. One simple example would be providing a number of rich images and asking students to use vocabulary words in a sentence about one of the image options. With tools such as visual dice, such as the five found in a copy of Gamestormers, students could roll a set and choose 1-2 image results to connect to a list of terms from the unit.

    Beyond using image dice, a number of games such as Concept and Pictures come with boards and decks of cards with visual cues that could be used for playful assessment. In addition, Gamestormers features 139 unique cards with visuals that students could use as inspiration to connect to various vocabulary terms or important historical figures. Using the images with the cards can help students think outside the box in how to connect their vocabulary to the visual. These types of questions can easily be integrated into an assignment, quiz, or test.

    3. Design a Board or Card Game

    If you want to have students truly engage deeply with a subject, there is no better way than to ask them to teach the concept to others. However, we often default to the tried and true “create a presentation” medium for students to practice delivering information they have acquired. Instead of always relying on the same assessment, what about giving students the challenge of teaching through game design or simulation?

    One big roadblock for students designing a game to teach a concept is the process of game design. Thankfully, GamestormEDU created a step-by-step process along with a student workbook that walks both learners and the teacher through the journey of designing a game. Students quickly learn how to create their overall game goals and objectives, followed by the essential game mechanics that help players reach their goals. From there, learners design the necessary game cards, items, boards, and rules necessary for the game to function as a whole system.

    Another big concern educators have about students designing games is inspiration – how do students find a starting point? A great entry point would be to have students try remixing an existing game’s rules to change how it plays, or reskinning a game’s theme to match the content of the course. If students want to discover different game mechanics and come up with original game ideas, they could also play Gamestormers, our game where you design a 5-card game to win the game. During the playthrough, students discover different game mechanics they could implement in their own design, and they gain the experience of aligning a game story, mechanics, and items into a cohesive experience.

    Closing Thoughts

    Assessments exist to allow students opportunities to demonstrate mastery of content and skills, and game design provides a fantastic way for students to show they understand relationships, essential qualities, and key features of a number of topics. Using games as assessment tools help push students to think critically and creatively about the content in new ways, as well as a familiar and fun medium. We owe it to our students to give them playful assessment opportunities, and game design meets this goal in spades.

    Jon Spike is an educator and game lover who recognizes the power of game based learning and recently went through the process of designing and developing a game for the classroom that was fully funded on Kickstarter and will be available for purchase very soon. Come see Jon at IDEAcon at  GamestormEDU, booth 419. You can also catch Jon giving a hands-on demonstration of Gamestormers in Game On! Tuesday, February 14, from 2:30-3:00PM.

  • February 02, 2023 10:57 AM | Heather (Administrator)

    Let’s Engage! Improving communications with families using ParentSquare

    We recently sat down to learn more about one of our district’s stories on the impact ParentSquare has had for them, and we met with Brooke Trahan. Brooke is a two-time teacher of the year and former Brenham ISD alumni with over ten years of experience in education. She has earned her Bachelors of Fine Arts from Stephen F. Austin State University, and her Master of Arts from Northwestern State University. Brooke most recently served as the Brenham High School Art Instructor and is a contributing member of campus, district, and community leadership committees. 

    Brenham Independent School District in Brenham, TX is a rural K-12 district of seven schools serving 5,000 students. School-home communications were inconsistent, unsecure and handled by various applications for which this rural district had little or no oversight. Teachers have a simplified, accountable way to communicate with parents, roughly 50% of whom take advantage of the platform’s translation capabilities, thus ensuring equitable access to communications.

    When Brooke came onboard as Brenham ISD’s communications coordinator in 2022, she immediately recognized the gaps in the district’s approach to school-home communications. Of biggest concern to this former teacher and parent was how she had to use School Messenger plus email, phone calls and social media—all of which had to be handled separately—to get important messages out to recipients. 

    Communications were inconsistent and the usability wasn’t friendly because everyone was coming to me to get everything up and running,” Brooke said. “I was moving from School Messenger to email to phones, and then having to open up a whole different tool to set up social media alerts.” She then had to move to an entirely different platform to set up website alerts.

    Brooke wasn’t in her new position very long when she started thinking about a better, more streamlined way to manage school-home communications. After meeting with the district’s webmaster about adding communication capabilities to Brenham ISD’s existing website, Brooke remembered that a Finalsite sales rep had previously suggested she check out the ParentSquare safe and secure school-home communications platform. “When our webmaster decided that he didn’t want to change the website software for this year, I met with 12 different communication platform providers,” Brooke explained. “ParentSquare was the platform of choice.” The district is now using the ParentSquare safe and secure school-home communications platform across seven different campuses.  

    ParentSquare Made the Most Sense

    According to Brooke, ParentSquare made the most sense for Brenham ISD for several reasons. It would help the district eliminate teachers’ use of Remind. “There’s no oversight in Remind. If the parent files a grievance or issue of any kind, we had no way to verify the validity,” Brooke said. “If you’re relying on someone’s personal screenshots with the digital applications in this world, that can all be easily manipulated.

    ParentSquare also gave the district auto-notifications for attendance, a way for teachers to track which parents did (and didn’t) open their messages, and a direct integration with an existing student information system (SIS).

    Working closely with Brenham ISD’s IT systems coordinator, Brooke got the new school-home platform up and running quickly. “Our systems coordinator told me this was one of the smoothest software implementations she’d ever handled,” she added.

    A Valuable Asset for Teachers

    When teachers place a note in a student’s backpack they never really know whether that note will make it home or not. “My child is a quintessential example of how they’ll grab their open backpacks and run out to the car,” Brooke said. ParentSquare closes this communication gap by tracking the delivery and opening and viewing the process—all of which can be tracked by the teacher. 

    If you want a quick check to make sure something’s going home, you can filter the messages by ‘declined,’ ‘bounced’ or some other criteria,” Brooke explained, who also likes how the school-to-home communications platform “talks” to Brenham ISD’s SIS. Once a student is added to the SIS, that information is reflected in ParentSquare within 24 hours or less.

    ParentSquare is also retroactive, which means all of the feed that’s on the activity prior to that student’s enrollment is visible to parents so they can quickly catch up on important topics and issues,” Brooke said. And while opening up lines of two-way communication is great, having the data and analytics behind the campus numbers is “huge,” she said, particularly when it comes to contactability (the percentage of messages and communications that make it through to the intended recipients).

    When I presented a ParentSquare update to our school board recently, I pulled up a screenshot of our current dashboard to show the aggregate views of contactability across the district,” she added. “It revealed that all of our campuses are now over 90% contactability and most of them are at 98%.

    Weathering the Storm

    School districts deal with numerous unexpected challenges and roadblocks on a daily basis. No exception to that rule, Brenham ISD recently found itself grappling with an electrical transformer that was put out of service by a major storm in the area. All of the lights went out at one of its elementary schools, leaving the campus with no Wi-Fi, phones or backup generator.

    Everything went down,” Brooke recalled . Because the school’s principal had the ParentSquare mobile app on her phone, she was able to quickly send out a mass alert to all staff members and parents. The message got out quickly and everyone was able to take the appropriate action—all while the school had no other contact points with the outside world. 

    ParentSquare also provides reports that can be downloaded, including those relating to attendance and illness. “For me as a parent, that is huge,” Brooke said. 

    My child was sick the other day and the platform was already populated with her legal name, student ID, campus and date that she was absent,” she continued, “All I had to write in was that she was home sick with a fever and that she would remain home for 24 hours, per school policy.

    A Huge Win for Equitable Communications

    ParentSquare has given Brenham ISD’s teachers a powerful tool for communicating with non-English speaking parents or those for whom English is not their first language. Teachers or administrators can write notes in their native language and then have the communications translated into the receiver’s native language.

    Our elementary school has a high number of  Spanish-speaking students; when a teacher hits ‘View Original’ it shows them what was translated,” Brooke explained. “Our county’s population is about 50% Hispanic, so our ability to consistently communicate to that community—which is the same size as our English-speaking population—has been a huge win for us.” 

    To learn more about ParentSquare, please reach out to:

    Amy Serrano: 4000 students and more
    Stacey White: 3999 students or less
  • January 25, 2023 2:14 PM | Heather (Administrator)

    It may seem strange that we’re incredibly excited about this Vivo blog post about, of all things, ergonomic furniture. But flexible seating has been gaining popularity and recognition for several years, but it’s not always carried out to its fullest capacity. Truly accessing the benefits of flexible seating means looking at the type of options you have available. For the best results, this means looking at ergonomic furniture specifically designed to comfortably accommodate movement. Specially designed ergonomic furniture will also allow access to classroom engagement for neurodivergent students that they may find difficult to achieve in a traditional setting. And that’s what Vivo shows us in this post!

    Support Anxious Students Without Distracting Your Classroom

    It's no secret that anxiety is high in students today. From shifting positions in a stationary chair, pencil tapping, to constant requests to get up and move, the signs of a fidgeter are obvious. And unfortunately, it often becomes a distraction for neighboring students. What if you had a quiet way for fidgety students to move throughout their day without causing loud distractions to others? What if there was a solution that would allow movement that actually increased a student’s ability to focus?

    There is. And it’s easier than you’d think. Allow me to introduce you to VIVO’s collection of rocking kneeling chairs. 

    Kneeling Chairs by VIVO

    Proudly located in the heart of Illinois, VIVO provides a flexible solution to classroom seating. Our kneeling chairs encourage use of alternative postures that engage otherwise unused muscle groups. 

    The chairs are angled at a comfortable 90 degrees, providing a seated position that mimics that of standing. The subtle rocking motion provides needed movement throughout the day and can improve focus overall. And best of all, the solid wood frames cause no squeaks or crackling noises, reducing classroom distractions. 

    These chairs are by far my favorite,” says Andrea Sandavol, first grade teacher at Midland Elementary. “Some of the other flexible seating options allowed for too much movement, and the students were distracted by it. These kneeling chairs are perfect as they allow different seating and some movement in a controlled manner.” Sandavol’s classroom in Lacon (IL) tested out four of VIVO’s rocking kneeling chairs to use as flexible seating options. “The students love using the chairs and I have noticed an improvement of focus from my more wiggly students!”

    Great in the Classroom

    Kneeling chairs can be great additions to a classroom when used in conjunction with existing chairs. This allows students options throughout their day to change up how they are sitting and can help more wiggly students get through the long day without missing vital classroom time. It can also satisfy the need to move while helping the students focus and stay on task. 

    Students pick the [kneeling chair] over the other flexible seating I have in the classroom,” shares Robin Shaffer of her kindergarten class at Germantown Hills Elementary (Germantown Hills, IL). “One student prefers to sit and rock as a way to calm down during the day…definitely benefits the students and myself.” 

    Ready to learn more? Or try one out for yourself? Check out our collection of kneeling chairs, alongside many other classroom related products, at or plan on attending our Wednesday Webinar on January 25th, 2023. There we’ll showcase our collection of classroom oriented products and answer any questions you have!

    Attending IDEACon 2023? Come visit us in booths 401 and 501, where we will have several chairs on display ready for testing, along with many other VIVO products. Stop by and say “Hello”, and enter for a chance to win one of 2 gift baskets. We would love to meet you! Haven’t registered yet? Register here

    At VIVO, we’re proud to offer a wide variety of kneeling chairs along with many other ergonomic solutions for the classroom. Located in Central Illinois between Bloomington and Peoria, we love working with educators throughout Illinois and beyond to help improve their day to day environment for their students. Alongside flexible seating options, we also offer height adjustable desks, mobile workstations, laptop carts, and monitor mounts to make your day a little easier. 

  • January 19, 2023 10:00 AM | Heather (Administrator)

    Yoga Infused Calm and Inclusive Spaces

    By Sarah Said

    I have spent 2022 healing... I don't think I am the only educator that has spent the past year on a journey learning more about themselves. One thing I had to work hard in doing was finding joy.. in my personal and professional life. This was a year that I also learned that I am neuro-divergent. This was a new reality to me.  In this journey, not only did I realized I had to rethink how I live, but I also had to rethink spaces for students. I am now in a position as an Alternative school ELL English teacher in Elgin U-46. I am seeing my classroom from a lens that I have never seen it before. The joy is back.

    Calm and Inclusive spaces are more than just classrooms with Himalayan Salt lamps and pastel decor (although they are a nice addition.) It is really how we think about the structure of our classroom. This past year, I became a Breathe For Change Graduate and not only did I become a certified yoga instructor, I learned how to infuse the philosophy of yoga into my classroom.

    So my advice to you...

    Have shared agreements in your classroom

    When you're creating a trauma invested community in your classroom, it's important to realize that students who have dealt with a lot of trauma do not respond well to commands. Allow students to create shared agreements and norms with you first week of class. Also, ask questions and give choices rather than tell students what the need to do. Boundaries with each other and technology are important. Read about that more in my Edutopia article here.

    Set Weekly Intentions with your Students

    I started to use inspirational word stones to help my students and I set intentions for the week. Students pull a stone out of the bag. I ask the class if this is a good word for us. We can pull out up to three words until we find the right one.  Then, we use that word throughout the week to motivate each other.

    Create Time in Your Structure for Breath work

    We use our weekly word for a breathing and meditation that we do daily in our structure. With older students, the meditation seems awkward at first. They may start giggling or even trying to take out devices.  When you set boundaries and structures while continuing to start your class in breathing and meditation many begin to appreciate and enjoy it. There are times in the hustle and bustle, my students remind me that we need to breathe before our starting our learning targets.

    Allow Time and Space for Movement

    Between activities, I may work with students prior to the transition to say "hey, let's do a quick standing sun salutation by our desks". Again, with older students they may giggle and it seems awkward at first, but eventually they learn to appreciate the stretch and the movement. Not only are we getting settled between activities, but they are also learning a new low or no tech solution to self-soothe. This is a skill they can take into adulthood.

    Now, this is a short blog. You can learn more at my session on Tuesday, February 14th at 9:30 am at IDEAcon. I will also be teaching three different complementary yoga offerings on Monday evening, Tuesday Evening, and Wednesday morning.

    Come breathe, learn and grow with me!

    Sarah Said is an educator who has served in various roles: Teacher, Assistant Principal, Dean, Curriculum Coordinator and Multilingual Coordinator. Sarah is an advocate for the students she serves and is a strong voice in education. She has a passion for supporting students with Mindfulness work as well as language learners. Most recently, Sarah graduated from the Breathe for Change SEL Facilitator program and also became a 200 Certified Yoga teacher. She is registered with the International Yoga Alliance. She has been published in various publications such as Learning for Justice, EdWeek Teacher, The Teaching Channel, Edutopia and Confianza.

    Sarah is also the Governing Board representative for the IDEA Kishwaukee Chapter.

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