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. 

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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 118 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 250 Comments
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