Inside Lakota Learning
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The Lakota learning experience is one filled with inquiry, innovation and discovery. Every student's learning style, passions and interests are different, which is why the experience of one student will never be exactly that of another. It's why Lakota teachers and support staff are committed to student-centered learning and providing a personalized approach marked by differentiated teaching methods. 

Let the Lakota Learning Team explain what that means and how that goal plays out on a daily basis in our classrooms. Through this blog, they'll guide parents and community members through the strategy behind Lakota's student-centered curriculum and how different methods meet students' educational needs. And because learning doesn't stop at school, they'll provide tips and strategies for how to be partners in the learning process and create a positive learning environment at home. 

Recent Posts

As a child, I distinctly remember going to the grocery store with my mom on a typical Saturday morning. As I gazed down the aisles, thinking about what new snack I wanted for my lunch, I suddenly came back to reality as I saw my teacher browsing the baked goods.

I immediately wanted to run over and hug her, but then a twinge of fear overtook me. Would she be as happy to see me, as I was to see her? What was she doing out of school? Should I just leave her alone to shop and enjoy her Saturday? Suddenly, I questioned something I had never questioned before. Did my relationship with my teacher, whom I adored and spent day in and day out with, change outside of school?

This year, as I sat with my senior in high school and heard her say that this year was different - better than every other year - I contemplated how that could be. Upon asking her, I realized it had less to do with the logistics of going back - schedules, seeing friends, senior parking spots and routine - and everything to do with relationships.

“I actually felt like my teachers ‘wanted’ to get to know me,” she said. “They talked to me about my interests, told me about themselves and even laughed, danced and had fun with us.” I was so proud to hear these words and it refreshed my outlook on that day in the grocery store. My teacher and all other teachers are real people, who have chosen a profession where they can grow their family by hundreds.

As we begin this new school year in Lakota, there is a fresh buzz about learning and collaborating that has become contagious. From day one, we have spent time getting to know our students, understanding their passions and contemplating how we use this knowledge to motivate them to unleash their creative potential.

But before we can accomplish this, we must get to know our students on a deeper level, make them our family, love them so much that they can fail and learn from their mistakes, share in a celebration of success and safely step outside of their comfort zone with arms wrapped tightly in support.

This looks different for every child. Some are overcoming language barriers and feel trapped in silence or misunderstanding. Some have a brilliant idea they want to embark on, but time is holding them back because they care for siblings. Some want to follow a passion, but have no time to do it because they are bogged down by homework.

If we, as educators, made time for these things in our classroom, we could change our students’ lives and instill in them a singular motivator to launch them into their adult career path. But first, we must know them deeply. What motivates them, what makes them work harder, what frustrates them and how do they best receive feedback? Our classrooms must be a safe place where embarking on new ideas, projects and teamwork is vital and necessary.

We have to empower our students to pursue their passions while they are IN school. We have to shift our role to one that is focused on preparing students for anything while making their learning meaningful and relevant so that they covet the experience. As educators, parents and administrators, we must be relentless in understanding, reaching and growing every child and finding whatever way possible to do that.  

We cannot accomplish any of these things without a partnership with our families. You are the backbone of their early learning and the foundation that holds them together. You have known for years what we strive to know every day. What makes your child tick? What motivates them and what are they passionate about? We also have to turn to you for the tough questions to try to understand their background, past experiences that affect them today and what frustrates them about school.

In order for children to strive academically and socially, they must see school and home as a partnership. This goes deeper than sharing about their behavior for the day or following through with intrinsic rewards, but also dives into structure and routine. We must empower our children in all settings of their life.

I often find that my best learning takes place while I am in the midst of creation I also see the most determination on my students’ faces when they are in the midst of creation. In a setting where relationships are at the forefront and children are in control of their learning, they will set goals for themselves and accomplish them, rewarding themselves with new and interesting learning.  What you will see is students designing their path to learning an objective, deciding on their learning target, how long it will take them to get there and how their success will be measured. As adults, we sit back and guide, open up doors to resources to support them, ask them hard and thoughtful questions and connect them with people and opportunities in the community to sustain their work.

Along the way, we must teach them life skills to support their learning, such as time management, organization, and self-efficiency. We must encourage them to be self-starters. In the book “Empower”, John Spencer suggests that we do the following to help launch our learners, at home and at school, for we are ALL their teachers.

Inspire them.

Create opportunities for self-starting.

Provide the tools.

Encourage creative risk-taking.

Model the thinking process.

Affirm it.

Help them find a community.

We must be partners in building capacity within our children. They have to be able to expect the same outcomes and the same structure across their world. They must be able to take their learning at school and carry over the inquiry, passion, and lust for more into their home setting where you can continue that discovery with them. By doing this, we can build strong relationships with our children, create learning that is real-life and meaningful to them.

I never want my children to question their relationship with their teacher when they see them in the grocery store. I want them to run with open arms to them and wrap their arms around their waist and I want parents to know exactly who that person is because they also have a meaningful relationship with them - no awkward introductions necessary.  WE must be relentless in understanding, reaching and growing every single child and learn together for OUR kids.

Christina FrenchChristina French is new in her role as the Director of Curriculum K-6 after leaving her post as principal of Hopewell Elementary School. You can connect with her on Twitter @LakotaElemLearn or through email at

Posted by  On Sep 26, 2018 at 2:26 PM

Will you do me a favor before we begin?  


Close your eyes and picture your favorite, most influential teacher. Try to imagine a specific memory you have with this teacher. Now, indulge me a bit further and think about why you chose him or her 


My guess is that you are not currently thinking about pedagogy, organizational techniques, lesson plans, or what specific learning standards you mastered under this teacher’s care. 


This August marks the beginning of my 13th year at Lakota West High School. Much has changed since I first walked into room 106 in 2005, and not just that I now walk into room 140 daily. When I began teaching, I believed I had to prove myself in those first days of August—prove that I was in charge; prove that I was smart; prove that I was organized and ready; prove that I knew all the answers; prove that MY class would be challenging and meaningful.  


I’m assuming you are shaking your head at me by this point. While organization, classroom management, and preparedness are key characteristics of a good teacher, those are certainly not the qualities my students list first when asked about their ideal teachers. And they certainly aren’t the only qualities I’m looking for as a parent.  


Now that I’m older, perhaps wiser - but really because I’m a parent who has two children in Lakota schools this fall - I have new priorities for those first days. What are my priorities now?  

Mrs. Dunn loves you.  

Mrs. Dunn loves her job.  

Mrs. Dunn’s room is safe.  

You are valued.  

You are capable of learning.  

I believe in you.  

This is not MY room; this is our room.   

We are a community.  

We will learn from one another.  

I don’t know all of the answers, but I can’t wait to find them out with you.  


I realize these goals may sound unrelated to my English Language Arts learning standards, and I am certainly aware of the intense pressure on teachers and students alike these days to cover too much curriculum and to pass too many standardized tests. However, I have learned in the past decade that I can cover curriculum more efficiently and effectively when my students and I have first worked to build a genuine relationship 


I should not have had to learn this. Everyone who has ever been a part of a team knows: Good teammates know one another well. Consequently, they can communicate well. They anticipate moves; they cover for one another; they highlight one another’s strengths; they know what each other is thinking or worried about. And teams that work to build this type of foundational relationship are generally far more successful than those who don’t.  


Earlier, when I closed my eyes, I pictured Mrs. Karen Frailie, and, no matter what you say, I can guarantee she was the best teacher pictured in that exercise. I had the honor of being her student for two years as she was my 7th and 8th grade English teacher. I can still see her bright eyes and her perfectly lipsticked smile, and I can still hear her gentle voice in my head. 


I can also still list the short stories, novels, and plays she taught me, and, if you’d like, I could still diagram sentences in the same format she modeled for me. Please understand: I cannot do this because I absolutely loved the literature or grammar she was teaching at the time. Instead, I remember because of Mrs. Frailie.  


She noticed I loved books and slipped me ones she thought I would like to read in my spare time. They had nothing to do with her required learning standards, but they fueled a fire that has never gone out.  


She made me feel like I was a good writer—I was 12; there’s no way I was actually writing enjoyable content. She made me believe otherwise.  


She spoke gently, graciously, and kindly to all of her students at all times—except for that one time she yelled “STOP!” at the top of her voice in order to demonstrate how an imperative sentence worked grammatically. 


She made me feel valued and as though what I said mattered. Again, I was 12 and likely not delivering profundity in conversation. Yet, she made me feel otherwise.     


She intentionally built a personal relationship with me. Thus, I learned from her, and I believed her when she told me I could conquer whatever challenge she put in front of me. 


Mrs. Frailie passed away when I was a freshman in college, and through a series of humbling and fortunate events, I was gifted a box of her teaching materials. There is one item that has a special home in my desk, and I occasionally pull it out to remind myself of something crucial to a successful classroom.  


Lesson bookYou see, I have the lesson plan book for one of the classes she taught me. Each square is filled to the brim with her scrawling cursive—day after day is packed with meticulous plans for what the class would learn. Well, every day except one. The first day of school has two words written on it: Welcome Students. I know Mrs. Frailie well enough to know this was not from a lack of preparedness or inability to put together a proper syllabus. Instead, she knew what was important on that first day—love her students, learn about them, teach them about her, and build community. 


That first day was not wasted. I remember her and what she taught me because she chose to invest in me—from day 1.   


Bethany Dunn's kindergarten sonAs a parent, I wish for nothing more than my children’s teachers to get to know them as quickly as possible. Admittedly, now that my son is beginning kindergarten in the fall, I’m a bit terrified he will be expected to fit into his older sister’s mold. But he won’t fit. His mold has more energy, more confidence, more noise, more fun, more random dancing, and less rule-following. The parent in me wants to send a note on his back on the first day of school that reads, “I’m not my sister. Please get to know me and love me for me. Please see my potential. Thankfully, the Lakota teacher in me who has the privilege of knowing several kindergarten teachers across the district knows this is unnecessary.  


As a teacher, I’ve learned to reframe my thinking about those first days of school. Am I losing precious time to teach? Nope. I teach several lessons those first days: Humans over data. Relationships over rules. Students first. Your teacher is human too. Learning requires community.  


I’m excited for another year with students, and I’m committed to remembering and employing one of the great lessons of Dr. Maya Angelou. She taught me several—to be an unapologetically fierce woman and a reverent keeper of words to name a few—but this one is particularly prudent for our purposes here: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  


I want my students to feel welcomed, known, and empowered—from day 1. 

This August marks the beginning of Bethany Dunn's 13th year as a language arts teacher at Lakota West High School. You can connect with her on Twitter @BethanyDunn19 or through email at

Posted by  On Aug 03, 2018 at 4:35 PM 135 Comments

There truly is nothing like the excitement and joy the first day of summer brings. Students, teachers, and parents, alike, relish in the fact that summer is here and a simpler life is on the horizon for the next few months. We all crave and look forward to a slower pace, a shorter to-do list, and more time on our hands to do the things that we enjoy. It allows us time to recharge and reconnect with the people we love.

But, just when you start to relax into your summer routine, you recall your child’s teacher sharing the importance of summer learning. “Oh, wait. So, what is that going to look like?”

For me, it is a major reality check every year when I realize that I have three children at home with and that it’s my responsibility to make sure they continue to learn. Through much trial and error, we have found some summer routines that not only keep my children engaged, but also make sure that they have plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.

Although I will share my experience of being home with my children in the summer, I realize that not all families are able to be with their children during the day. So, these ideas can absolutely be done on weekends/days off or can even be a resource that you share with caregivers. So, here are some of our favorites and a few new things we hope to try this year so that we have a summer filled with joy and learning.

1. Invite Children to Play

"Play is the highest form of research."

-Albert Einstein

Play is an important part of every child’s growth and development. All children (and even adults) have a fundamental right to play. Through play, children learn about their world. They learn to problem solve, communicate, and use their imagination. In a dream world, our children would play peacefully and independently all day long. In reality, children in the summer are trying to adapt to life that may be a little less structured than what they are used to. In our house, things quickly turn from “Yay, it’s summer!” to “I’m bored, where’s my iPad?” A while back, I discovered that one way I could encourage my children to play more is by setting up play invitations. I choose something that my children already own and set it up in an inviting way that will encourage them to play. This looks different for each of my children because of their interests and what they happen to already own. Here are a few images of what a play invitation might look like for each of my children.

Invitation to play space examples

I have found that setting up invitations like these hands-down gets my kids playing more. They enjoy the element of surprise of what I’m going to set up for them and they get to rediscover things that may have been shoved into the back of their closet and forgotten about. For the summer, my goal is to set up invitations like these after my kids are in bed for the night. Then, I can look forward to a slow morning sipping my coffee while all three of my kiddos are engaged in play. Sounds like a win-win to me!

2. Encourage Creativity

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
 - Maya Angelou 

Similar to play invitations, we also love art invitations. The purpose of an art invitation is simply to get children to explore in a creative way. An art invitation, for us, is almost always about the process and not the end product that is created. This type of process takes the pressure off children to make something look “right” and allows them to just enjoy the moment. It’s giving your child the opportunity to work with different art materials, experiment, and make choices as an artist. An art invitation doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few invitations that we have done; however, if you need more ideas I highly suggest that you follow @100daysofartbar on Instagram. It is literally 100 days of different art invitations that are super inspiring. 

Examples of creative play stations

3. Get Out and Explore! 

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” 
- Rachel Carson

Outdoor exploration photo

There is only so much time we can spend inside playing. The biggest perk of summer is being able to explore the great outdoors. So much learning happens when children explore the world around them. In years past, we have created summer bucket lists of places we hope to visit throughout the summer. This year, we are setting a goal to visit a new park each week. There are so many places literally right around the corner from us just waiting to be explored. I also hope to teach my children the importance of slowing down and observing the world around them. To encourage observation, we’ll take along notebooks/sketchbooks and different supplies like crayons and maybe even watercolor paint. That way, we can sketch or write down what we are noticing and wondering. Who knows? This may even lead to an interest that your child will want to research and learn more about. Here are some links to some wonderful parks that we hope to check out this summer: 


4. Cultivate an Interest 

“Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” 
- William B. Yeats   
Whether at home or at school, the most powerful learning occurs when children have the opportunity to choose what they want to learn. Summer is a great time for students to engage in some self-selected learning. One way to help cultivate this kind of learning is by creating an interest basket. If I notice one of my children has a particular interest in something, I’ll throw some things together in a basket like books, photographs, and other objects that relate to that interest. If my child continues to be engaged and passionate about that topic, I might even allow them to deepen their learning through a project. For example, an interest in plants might begin with a basket of real seeds to observe, a diagram that shows the parts of a plant, paper to sketch or draw a plant, and some nonfiction books. This could eventually lead to a project of creating a home garden. Often times, these projects could engage the whole family and will most likely include practice with many academic skills, such as, reading, writing, math, etc. It is also extremely beneficial for our children to see us learn something new, so consider a project that would allow you to learn alongside your child. 

5. Build a Writing Habit 

“You can make anything by writing.” 
- C.S. Lewis 

Writing space photo

Writing is an important skill that all students need to learn but it is also one that requires lots and lots of practice. Encouraging your child to write, anything and everything, over the summer will reap many benefits. Writing is so closely connected to reading that often a child’s reading will improve with consistent writing practice. It also helps develop fine motor skills, gives children a voice, and often provides an outlet when dealing with strong emotions. To encourage writing with my kiddos, I have a writing area set up in our home stocked with blank paper, list paper, blank cards, and stapled booklets. They are able to make different choices depending at what they want to write. They learn that writing can serve different purposes. When my children aren’t sure what to write, I encourage notes of kindness to friends and family members, making a to-do list, or simply writing down a personal experience that they have had. Here are some favorite writing activities that I have explored with students and my own children:

6. Family Read Aloud

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” 
- Emilie Buckwald 

I couldn’t write a post about summer learning that didn’t include reading! We want children reading all of the time. I, personally, don’t like quantifying it with a number like 20 minutes per day. What I want is for my children to view themselves as readers - for reading to be something they do because they want to, because they love learning about new things, traveling to far away places, or connecting with a character. This can be easier said than done, but one of the best ways to begin is to get children to fall in love with books! And, I have found that all children (ages 0 - 100) love to hear a book being read aloud. The past couple of summers, I have chosen a chapter book to read aloud to my kids. We read a chapter or two a day and have a quick discussion afterward about what we notice, what we wonder, and what we predict will happen next. The best thing is the way that we connect as a family through that story. It is a part of the day that we all look forward to. Your local libraries (see links below) also have excellent programs that encourage children to read over the summer. The goal with reading is always about making it engaging for your child. Motivation is key!

These are just a few ways that can give your child a summer filled with fun and learning. The possibilities are endless.  Always remember, parents, that you have as much an impact on your child’s learning as teachers. You know them best and can help guide their interests and passions in a way that we can’t replicate at school. Learning happens when children feel safe, inspired, and encouraged. So, be creative and have fun with it. I hope you have a wonderful and playful summer!

Blog author Elizabeth Farris photoElizabeth Farris currently serves as the creative specialist at Wyandot Early Childhood School. Next school year, she will be teaching kindergarten at Hopewell ECS. She looks forward to a summer of learning alongside her husband, Aaron, and her three kids, Audrey, Will, and Nora. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @wykidscreate or through email at

Posted by  On May 15, 2018 at 9:09 AM 258 Comments

Son wesley on monkey barsLast summer, I was reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, and I found myself completely taken aback when I read this quote:

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” - Carol Dweck

Not too long after that, I was at the park with my family and for the first time, my son Wesley finally got all the way across the bars. I immediately jumped up with excitement and shouted, “Good job! You’re awesome!” After the words came out of my mouth, I stopped to think about how I’d reacted. I thought through the messages that my praise sent. Did I give him a temporary boost and a smile? Yes. But, what if he didn't get across next time? What would he assume? What about the next challenge he comes across? Will he not take a risk because he will be afraid that he might fail and not be awesome?

Psychologist Carol Dweck says that praising brains and talent has the opposite effect of giving children confidence. Instead, it makes them doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or goes wrong. Being purposeful with process feedback on the other hand helps send the message that our intelligence and abilities are changeable, with effort and the right strategies. Do our words say, “You are a developing person” or do they say, “You have fixed-abilities and I’m judging them”?

Some students enter college and have serious anxiety when they get their first B or C. Or they don’t know how to cope when they’ve made a big mistake or a bad decision. Have we given them too much person-oriented praise and focused on their “intelligence” or “abilities” too much? Kids who have received praise for their process are more likely to ask questions, ask for help, focus on strategies for improvement, and not see failure as paralyzing.

I decided I wanted to work on my own language and try to make my feedback more specific. I wanted to give Wesley productive feedback and somehow emphasize the process, the ingredients for success, so that he could learn HOW he was able to accomplish something he wanted to accomplish. So, I asked Wesley, “How did you do that? How did you finally get across?” This made him think through and internalize his process. He paused for a second, then said, “I’ve been practicing every time we come to the park. I’ve also been watching other kids and they were swinging their legs more, so I tried that.” To remind him that working hard at something helps us improve, I added, “I’ve also noticed you worked so hard and you didn’t give up.” 

Person praise is non-productive and it creates “fixed thinking.” It says our talents and abilities are unchangeable. Have you seen your children give up? In that moment, they may have fixed thinking: “Why try if think I can’t change the result?”  When we say, “You are so smart,” children think, “If there are smart kids, then there are dumb kids, and I better not do anything that would show I was born dumb.” Whenever we mark one end of the conversation (smart, talented, athletic), kids can fill in the opposite if they are not successful. On the other hand, productive praise focuses on cause and effect: When you did this, this happened.

Turn Children’s Thinking Towards Process with Productive Praise


(emphasizes a person’s intelligence andabilities and sends the message that these traits are permanent)


(emphasizes persistence, focus, strategies and sends the message that we can always grow and develop)

“Ryan you are so smart. You got an A!”

“I notice when you study really hard, it pays off.”

“Great job! You are such a good boy.”

“Did you notice that when you clean up your toys, your sister doesn’t step or trip on them? Thank you.”

“You are a great reader.”

“When you read your book really smoothly, you understood what you read.”

“You got a 100%. You were born a writer. You are a natural!”

“I noticed when you added dialogue to your piece, I understood how your character felt.”

“Sam- You are a talented soccer player!”

“How did you make that pass? It looked like you thought about about where your partner was headed.”

 “Growth Mindset,” is the idea that says there is no telling where hard work and passion can take us in life. When children have a growth mindset, they will love challenges and enjoy effort.


How can we work on Growth Mindset principles at home?

  1. For your children, model and name your own fixed and growth mindset thinking. “I am having fixed thinking. I’m terrible at this and I want to give up! I’m having trouble hanging this artwork, but I know with help, hard work, and the right strategies, I can do it. I just haven’t figured it out YET.”

  2. Don’t sweep your mistakes under the rug!  Show your children mistakes aren't something they need to be ashamed of. When you accidentally spill your drink, say, “HEY, I LEARNED SOMETHING NEW! I won’t be putting my drink near the edge of the counter again.” Talk about what can be learned from mistakes.

  3. Celebrate challenges when things are hard. “Building this bird house is a challenge, but that means our brains are growing. We are learning something new!”

  4. Notice the messages your words send. Are you saying that some people are born a certain way and that won’t change?  “Mom is just not a math person.” Or “Aunt Sarah is a genius.”

  5. Learn something new or take on a new challenge!  When we have fixed thinking, we can find ourselves trying to prove to others we are smart/perfect, rather than seeking a new challenge at the risk of failing or not being “right.” This limits our growth!

  6. Talk about how the brain grows! Scientists are sharing that people have more capacity for life-long learning and brain development than ever thought before. Read books and watch videos about it as a family!

  7. Give productive, process-oriented praise. Give children the ingredients so that they can produce success again.

Let’s help each other create homes that believe in change, where adults and children are focused on process and effort and see mistakes as opportunities for learning.


Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston

Lessons for Parents

Video of A Study on Praise and Mindsets

Read Alouds, Videos, and More

Danielle Creamer headshotDanielle Creamer is a Teaching and Learning Consultant for the Curriculum & Instruction Department at Lakota Local Schools. Follow her on Twitter @danicreamer23 or email her at

Posted by  On Apr 11, 2018 at 5:12 PM 181 Comments

Karate photoTesting season is upon us. The pressure is on to cook breakfast, pack healthy snacks, put the kids to bed early - or even on time - and convince our children that tests are important. In reality, the state is still working out online testing and performance-based testing. The targets for performance are ever-changing. The data is often slow to come back, causing a reaction rather than pro-action.

However, even while the kinks are being worked out, the testing event is still important in your child’s life. Mastering test-taking is an effort, takes practice over multiple years as we/they grow and mature, and beyond the actual content being tested, it actually does foster success by building some very powerful life skills. The following five tips should help you set positive expectations and mindset:

1. Help your child develop a “smart” frame of mind.

On the morning before the test, especially the one your child finds most difficult, take 3-4 minutes to talk about the future. Ask your child to imagine themselves working at the best job they can imagine. Perhaps you have a third-grader who dreams of being a vet. Or, maybe your seventh-grader is set on being a pilot. Whatever the future brings, hard work is what will get them there. The morning’s test may be the hard work now, but imagine it as the path to their dreams. Research indicates that simple visualization produces results. A 2009 study by Guang Yue, a exercise physiologist, found that people who created mental images of exercise produced almost half the muscle strength as those who did the exercises outright. So imagine, just thinking about a successful future could at least help get them halfway there!

2. Talk about “grit”.

Grit is a bit of a buzzword right now.  According to, grit is, “firmness of character, indomitable spirit, pluck.” Don’t we all want to be described that way? Yet, the reason “grit” is such a buzzword is because we are trying to figure out how we get it and how we give it to our children. One thing I know for sure, and without consultation from an expert on parenting or education, we can’t foster grit if we don’t talk about it and point it out. Knowing it exists is enough to at least get kids thinking they should have it or want to develop it. Next week, as you set your child off for school, knowing they have a state test, remind them that they really do have what it takes. Some kids want to quit when they come upon an unknown problem or a difficult word. With grit in mind, the goal is to overcome, figure it out, or believe you will. No promises this will work next week, but as a life skill it is worth developing some grit.

3. Set some testing goals with your child.

Recently, I had to complete a lengthy assignment for a class I’m taking. Not as fun as writing this blog, it probably took me 40-45 hours. With such a daunting task before me, I found productivity by playing games of motivation. The accomplishment of tiny goals and subsequent rewards were very motivating. This is where you as the parent know your child best. You know what small things motivate them to do their best.  Does your child often not complete long tests? That could be a goal for the day. Do you have one who likes to rush through and be the first one done (I have to admit this was me)? Help them set a goal to read each question once before looking at answers and once again after reviewing the choices. Perhaps you have a day dreamer? If you believe they can still complete the task, allow them to take a mental break to sing a song in their head every time they complete a certain number of questions. Mini goals are motivating to big and little people. Take the time to talk with your child and figure out a small reward system that will help them get through the event. As a life skill, this will definitely come in handy in six-hour meetings, deciding to paint the house yourself (not my best idea), or waiting for that baby to arrive.

4. State tests are not intelligence tests.

Hopefully this isn’t news to you, yet it is certainly worth communicating to your son or daughter--THESE STATE TESTS DO NOT TELL YOU HOW INTELLIGENT YOU ARE! What you know today is not what you will know tomorrow or in the future. Let them know that questions that feel unknown are but only for now. Their potential grows everyday if they choose to learn everyday. However, the state and teachers are interested in what children know near the end of the year so that they can plan for moving each child along through better curriculum planning and lesson development. Teachers in Lakota spend a lot of time talking about individual children and their needs. State tests are important, but never have I seen a group of educators more interested in children as a whole than I do in Lakota. While state tests may feel like a big measuring stick, they are but one. Daily performance is what really matters.

5. Anxiety is power.

Anxiety is a fact of life. In fact, anxiety should be a constant in a full life. Talking with your child about how anxiety is a release of adrenaline that doesn’t always feel good but helps to sharpen the mind, is one of those powerful life skills. The butterflies or stomach ache means they care. Finding ways to help children channel anxiety for peak performance will suit them well in all of life’s anxious moments. Kid’s Health has a great website with information about anxiety. This link will take you to a page with a few breathing exercises for anxious kids.

I do want to mention that extreme anxiety is a medical condition and rare in children. If you believe that your child suffers from extreme anxiety, you will probably know well before the state test and should seek medical intervention. That being said, many tips to ease test anxiety are handled by the first four tips above: positive talk, imagining success, setting goals, and accepting that you may never know everything (honestly, no one will ever know everything).

With testing season just starting, it is not too late to use some of the ideas above first thing tomorrow and continue throughout the rest of their years in school and beyond. They will never avoid tests--life is full of them. Helping children navigate how they respond to testing can certainly make the event as stress-free as possible. You have all you need to help your child be successful in life. Testing needs to be the least of the conversation so that success takes over!

Erin Owens

Erin Owens is the K-6 director of Curriculum & Instruction at Lakota Local Schools. Follow her on Twitter @ElemCurric or email her at


Posted by  On Apr 06, 2018 at 4:18 PM 122 Comments

Parenting can be rough. I mean, there are days I would rather give up ice cream than deal with hearing “MOM!” from the opposite end of the house again. If you know me, you know ice cream is my life! By the way, I have tried changing my name; it doesn’t work. The kids just yell out random names, and it gets more annoying than just hearing “MOM” from the opposite end of the house again.

As parents, we are constantly told we have to plug in. What does that even look like for a modern parent? Staying plugged in to what our kids are doing is no easy task: Attend their school events, volunteer for everything, keep up with their school work and grades, monitor their social media accounts, know who they are hanging out with in real life, help them practice. I’m sure the list goes on.  So we have to ask, how are we truly engaging with our kids? How do we combat the exciting world of social media, FaceTime, Snapchat, virtual worlds, and the physiological euphoria that comes with interacting with technology?

Questions like this are difficult to tackle, and if you are anything like me, you end up spending nights throwing together something that resembles a meal, helping your kids check off the homework to do list as quickly as possible, and running from event to event as a glorified - let’s face it there’s no glory - chauffer for young people who act like they would rather be sitting on their iPad or phone than have an actual conversation with their….gasp….parents!

What about when we need to unplug? How do we unplug with our kids in meaningful and engaging ways that aim to foster positive relationships?  Now, before you get all over me about how crazy busy you already are, trust me, I KNOW! The last thing many of us want to do at night is figure out how we are supposed to be “engaging.” The least our kids can do is answer a simple question about their day without making us work for it! #AmIright

Here’s one way you can unplug: You actually plug right back in! Plug in to their interests, even those that may be digital. Yes, I said it, and I will repeat, “…even those that may be digital.” My son loves teaching his old school momma how to play video games a few nights a week. He indulges in my classic Mario for a bit while I swap out with some Zelda and Splatoon for him. True story by the way, the vocabulary acquisition in Zelda is just amazing along with plot development, characterization….but that’s the teacher in me leaking out! My oldest daughter is currently a huge fan of SIMS where she can design neighborhoods and houses.  Her interest in engineering, interior design, and architecture are leading her toward this path in all she does. She loves sitting me down and showing me her creations from neighborhood layout to house design all the way down to the window treatments. We have very different tastes in this area, but it’s fun to see where those conversations lead us and what ends up in my house later. My youngest will sit with me and snuggle to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood while pointing out all her favorite parts, singing the songs, and giving me life advice, “Out of the mouth of babes,” they say.  Her advice is actually quite good; we could all take some time to learn lessons from the wisdom of a 5-year-old. 

But, what about the two hours of screen time as recommended by pediatricians? Yeah….THAT! It’s a tough balance to achieve especially when kids spend some of their time at school using screens, come home to homework that may or may not require a screen, and then they want to relax with some screen time too. Even as an adult, that would adequately describe my day. I’ll be honest, some days we don’t have time for anything with a screen beyond what is needed for school. There just isn’t enough time in the day with all the craziness.  Other days, it’s those devices that bring me a sweet sense of serenity. 

My biggest advice for anything in life is to aim for the middle. The middle is a good place to be since extremes can be, well…extreme! Don’t hesitate to let your kids suck you in to a little screen time, especially if they are sharing some of their excitement and passion. Also, don’t hesitate to remember to push their butts outside on occasion to ride a bike, play with sidewalk chalk, read in the grass, or throw a ball around with you following right behind. You can have both. You can plug in and unplug.

Plug-In to Some Extra Reading:

New screen time rules for kids, by doctors

Screen Time and Children

9 secrets to managing your child’s screen time

25 Ways to Ask Your Kids ‘So How Was School Today?’ Without Asking Them ‘So How Was School Today?’

How to Get Your Kids to Play Outdoors 

Tiffany Rexhausen is an instructional coach at Lakota Local Schools and the mother of three beautiful children. Follow her on Twitter @TRexhausen or email her at

Posted by  On Apr 02, 2018 at 2:23 PM 171 Comments

“The purpose of education is to engage students with their passions and growing sense of purpose, teach them critical skills needed for career and citizenship, and inspire them to do their very best to make their world better.” - Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith.

It is truly a great time to be in Lakota! Our students have demonstrated outstanding achievement and remarkable growth on state assessments, as well our own measures of student success. Opportunity and student-centered learning are at an all-time high, as our teachers are expanding on their own opportunities to collaborate, innovate and lead professional development among their peers. Our families continue to volunteer and support student learning. All of this clearly demonstrates what all #WEareLakota encompasses.

It is also a great time to be talking about Lakota Learning. This Lakota Learning blog will be a place for us to discuss our true mission - the learning and growth of our students. We will take time in this space to share what is happening in our schools and to dive deeper into what we believe matters most. We hope that parents, teachers, and community members will use this resource to not only explore all that defines Lakota Learning, but also be a part of the process.

As you may be aware, starting next school year, Lakota will offer all-day kindergarten to all incoming students, and daily specials to every student in grades K-6. We are also adding electives in the junior schools to better engage our middle-level learners. All of these changes help us to offer an enriching and well-rounded Lakota student experience. We believe that every Lakota student, from kindergarten through graduation, should experience learning opportunities that are engaging, that spark their passions, and that expose them to a wide variety of positive influences and experiences. In the next year, we will explore the junior school and high school experiences to ensure that all of our students are set up for successful enrollment, employment, or enlistment after graduation.

The district is also moving toward a 1:1 learning environment. This aligns with our mission to deliver personalized Lakota Learning. We know that our graduates need to be equipped with those “soft skills” necessary to allow them to be successful in the future - critical thinking, ownership of learning, collaborative problem solving, persistence, etc. While we will always be responsible for meaningful content, our learning environments must empower students to understand and maximize their strengths, while our teachers act as facilitators and mentors in the learning process. The product of Lakota Learning cannot simply be paper/pencil (or online) assessments. Instead, it must be an authentic demonstration of mastery with real-world connections to make the learning relevant to every student’s path. All of this begins with the relationships that our staff members develop with students. We are all on board to create the best possible learning experience for every Lakota student.

Our community has high expectations, and it is our responsibility to deliver an excellent educational experience for the students we have the privilege to serve. We are honored to support this effort, and we look forward to using this forum to share more of the great work happening in and around our schools.

Keith KoehneKeith Koehne is Lakota's Executive Director of Curriculum & Instruction. His experience as both an administrator and teacher spans 24 years.

Posted by  On Mar 06, 2018 at 4:07 PM 252 Comments