Monthly Musings

Tips & Tidbits from your School Advocates

May Greetings!

The month of May tends to be a month up wrapping up the school year. The weather is warming up just in time for you to be sending staff and students on their way towards summer vacation. What a great opportunity for you as a leader to reflect on all the hard work you've accomplished this past year, and begin to "game plan" for fall. Please keep our regional center in mind as you reflect and forward plan. We're here to support you through coaching, resources, and professional development.

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Sophie Snell, ELD School Advocate

On April 9th, Minnesota ASCD hosted their spring conference. This year’s topic was American Indian Education: An Overview from Pedagogy to Policy presented by Dr. Rev Hillstrom and Ramona Kitto-Stately. After attending, I have been reflecting not only on Minnesota’s American Indian Education history and policies, but also on culturally responsive teaching.


Geneva Gay defines culturally responsive teaching as the “use of cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to, and effective for, them” (Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2000). Culturally responsive teaching builds a bridge between the content and the student. Educators who practice culturally responsive teaching make content relevant and applicable to their students’ lives by responding to their culture. They establish an environment where students can be their authentic selves, build trusting relationships, and respond the content and curriculum.


In the midst of standards work, curriculum alignment, data meetings, practice profiles and implementation stages, it is important to be reminded of this adaptive practice. As you wrap up this school year, and begin planning for next, take some time to reflect on how culturally responsive teaching compliments the work you are already doing in your building. Use the questions below to guide you.


  • Why is culturally responsive teaching important?

  • How are you leading your building to bring culturally relevant teaching into the classrooms?

  • Are students able to relate content to their background, experiences, home life, etc? Can they apply their learning to their lives?

  • Are students safe to be their authentic, real selves in the classroom and school?

  • What changes might be needed in your building and classrooms to become more responsive to culture?

  • What resources or support are needed to continue your learning and practice of culturally responsive teaching?

Improvement Through Systems Thinking

Kristil McDonald, SPED School Advocate

Leaders and leadership teams need to have an understanding of systems thinking. Effective leaders understand that systems thinking is a way of understanding the reality that emphasizes the dynamic relationship and interconnection between a system’s parts, rather than focusing on the parts themselves. Organizations that work systematically begin by looking for the connections between the various parts of the system and take steps to ensure better coordination of organizational functions. In all cases, the capacity of the system to enact internal quality controls that monitor the performance of the system are essential to ensure that the system engages in a continuous process of improvement. Leaders can promote this concept in teaching and learning by fostering the belief:

  • Each school must demonstrate a commitment to high levels of learning for all students.
  • Teachers must be organized into teams and given the time to collaborate.
  • Teams must provide students with a guaranteed and viable curriculum for every course and grade level, develop frequent and varied common assessments, and use the evidence of student learning for continuous improvement.
  • The school must create a system of intervention that provide students with additional time and support when they experience difficulty in their learning
  • The school must have a plan for extending and enriching the learning of students who are proficient that gives a greater access to more rigorous curriculum.
  • To adapt a local professional development policy that embraces the vision of student learning and student achievement.
  • To alter district requirements from school improvement plans to school improvement evaluation in order to continue to improve results and provide support. Through systematic change, it is ensured that every student experiences great teaching and improved learning.

Local Literacy Plan

Michelle Wang, Reading School Advocate

Reading Well by Third Grade is a Minnesota statute developed for the purpose of monitoring students’ reading proficiency, providing appropriate interventions, and communicating reading success/struggles with families of our youngest learners (K-3).


The submission window for Reading Well by Third Grade data recently opened and can be found by clicking here. New for 2016, are the following requirements:

  • Provides “data to support the effectiveness of an assessment used to screen and identify a student’s level of reading proficiency.”
  • Provides a “description of how schools in the district will determine the proper reading intervention strategy for a student and the process for intensifying or modifying the reading strategy in order to obtain measurable reading progress.”
  • Includes “progress monitoring to provide information on the effectiveness of the intervention.”
  • Uses interventions that are “evidence-based.”

Also, revisions to legislation in 2014 continue to be addressed by districts. They include:

  • Adding oral language and writing instruction into the district’s literacy planning.
  • Addressing the specific needs of English learners, including provision of reading assessments in students’ native languages, were practicable, increasing family engagement and building students’ academic language/literacy.
  • Providing training to ensure all teachers are “well trained in culturally responsive pedagogy.”


The submission site also has new features for the 2016 upload. These new features are designed to further streamline data entry, increase data accuracy, and facilitate reporting to stakeholders. Districts are required to submit their Local Literacy Plan to receive Literacy Incentive Aid. Districts are also required to post their Local Literacy Plan to their website.


As you prepare to update your Local Literacy Plan, and reflect on the literacy assessments your system currently uses, feel free to contact your school advocate for further literacy support.

Contact Information

Susan Burris, RCE Director, sburris@mnce.org

Lowell Haagenson, Systems Imp., lhaagenson@mnce.org

Mary Jenatscheck, Imp. Science, mjenatscheck@mnce.org

Kristil McDonald, Special Education, kmcdonald@mnce.org

Sarah Sirna, English Language Dev. (ELD), ssirna@mnce.org

Sophie Snell, English Language Dev. (ELD), ssnell@mnce.org

Michelle Wang, Reading, mwang@mnce.org

Kim Wingrove, Mathematics, kwingrove@mnce.org