Innovative Educator Interview: Sarah Binder, Stratford (IA) Community Schools

Innovative Educator Interview: Sarah Binder, Stratford (IA) Community Schools

I’m kicking off a new blog series in which I interview innovative educators in our region and around the world. First up, Sarah Binder, Superintendent and Elementary Principal of Stratford CSD!

1.  You have been working with your teachers to support concept-based teaching, Tell me what successes you have seen in the classroom.

Successes include students working harder, sustaining interest in big topics, talking about them at home (without being prompted), taking the next steps (without being prompted). Example: US History Theme: 20th Century of Change and Conflict. 5th and 6th grade students studied the theme for extended period of time. They did not use the textbook. They used a variety of reading resources (hard copy and online). They were excited about it and related it to many other topics. They talked about it with family, friends at recess, others. Teacher reported they were more excited about US History than she had ever seen (experienced teacher). The theme culminated with a tech showcase where students had created a project which they shared with families and friends at an evening event (museum like) where they were responsible for the kiosk and participants came to their kiosk to view project, ask questions, make comments. Parents commented students were excited about research, culminating projects, and knowledgeable about the focus they chose to research in-depth. Projects ranged from military advances to the WWII camps and music and many, many others, too.

2. As a result of your Concept-Based Teaching and Instructional work, how has it changed what you do as a school and what have you noticed differently in students’ work?

Teachers really know what they want students to know, understand and be able to do – not just because a teacher’s guide tells them. They have made connections to Iowa Core so teachers know students are doing challenging work and will be life long learners. Focus is on learning how to learn and learning concepts that will translate to other topics of research. Students are engaged. They work harder, longer, and have a deeper understanding. Teachers are able to differentiate instruction based on student interests, preferences (student choice for culminating project presentation and sharing is one example), and readiness. Using online resources, teachers are able to adjust the readability/ text complexity when needed. These are just a few examples. See response to Question 1, too.

3.  What role have you played in this work and how has that contributed to the successes and movement that you have seen so far?

I’ve worked right alongside teachers learning how to use the Concept Based Teaching & Instructional process, learning about Iowa Core, developing units, finding authentic audiences, developing ideas for authentic product/process/project. I am available to brainstorm with teachers and contribute to work. I have provided additional time during the summer, school year by paying teachers for work, providing release time for teachers to work, and structuring professional development days and sessions for continued learning and work in collaborative teams.

4. You have been interested in STEM and Makerspaces. What plans are in place for students to be engaged in Makerspaces and STEM learning experiences?

We received several grants to purchase a 3D printer and needed resources. We are launching our MakerSpace this fall. We’re starting with an Interest-Based Group (RAD group) that formed last spring and got really involved and interested in programming. They are going to continue work with learning how to program and print using the 3D printer. They, in turn, will teach groups of students so that all groups can take prototypes they have created and print a model. Example: 5th and 6th grade host an Invention Convention (US History and Industrial Revolution). Students will be able to take inventions they have created and print a model from the prototype. They will then be able to explore the process of getting it patented, manufactured, and marketed.

5.  What have you learned over the years about effectively facilitating innovative practices in the elementary?

You have to provide support, resources, time, and you have to be actively involved. With Prairie Lakes AEA and the Department of Education’s support we have been able to provide the necessary adult learning so that teachers understand. We utilize the co-teaching teams to provide a collaborative setting at Stratford and we partner with neighboring schools and schools around the world to continue that collaboration.  We also provide the professional development time and work time, which is part of Professional Growth and Development. Teachers need time to learn new instructional strategies and time to plan and integrate the new learning with traditional practices. We have more professional growth and development than many schools and the teachers and their students benefit from it. And it is time beyond the contract, and we have 100% participation. Some examples include Cognitive-Guided Instruction, Concept-Based Teaching & Instruction, integration of technology, Project-Based Learning, integration of Iowa Core.

6.  What advice would you give leaders who want to facilitate innovative practices?

Provide the necessary support, including new learning, time to work collaboratively, and being an active participant. We also have visited schools doing what we want to do, and we keep working at it. It is an ongoing process, and we will never be done – that is when the new learning stops.

7.  What would you like to ask other innovative leaders?

I would like to hear/read what other leaders have to say and are doing because I too am always learning – new instructional strategies and new ways to integrate the traditional with the nontraditional.