Meet Inspiring Educator Debra Weiler from New Palestine Intermediate School in Indiana
Meet Inspiring Educator Debra Weiler from New Palestine Intermediate School in Indiana
Once a month, Debra Weiler’s classroom turns into a “coffee shop.” It’s a time where all of her 27 students, including the 7 with IEPs, come together and discuss what is or isn’t working for them in the classroom, reflect on their personal learning goals for the month, and engage in peer tutoring. Mrs. Weiler, who encourages her students take ownership of their learning, says that the coffeeshops give her students an opportunity to use their voice in the classroom.
Mrs. Weiler, who teaches 6th grade at New Palestine Intermediate School in New Palestine, Indiana, was recently recognized as one of Edmentum’s 2019 Inspiring Educators. She was distinguished for her creative use of Edmentum notebooks in her classroom to help students take ownership of their learning and for her unyielding dedication to success in her classroom. Recently, we chatted with Mrs. Weiler and found out more about how she uses her classroom coffeeshops, how she uses her students’ data to drive achievement, and what it means to be an inspiring educator.
Tell me about when and why you decided to become an educator.
I have been a teacher for 25 plus years, and I always wanted to be a teacher. It’s just one of those things where I have many teachers in my family and my daughter is a teacher also— something about just having the passion for wanting to see kids do their best. I'm also a cheerleading coach and judge and involved with Best Buddies. Kids have always been such a big piece of my life and my family's lives.
You have quite a mix of students in your class of 27, including a few of students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and you’ve said they all take pride and ownership when it comes to their learning. Why is that so important in your classroom?
I'm all about the kids taking ownership in their learning because I do have kids, as a 6th grade teacher, that are at a 2nd grade level, and I have kids that are on 8th grade level. They have to take ownership in their learning. They have to let me know when something is too hard. They have to let me know if this is too easy. Helping them monitor their skills helps me because I can create whatever assignments in Exact Path or Study Island for the kids based on the state standards, but if the kids don't lead me in the direction where they need practice, then I'll never know.
In your 6th grade classroom, you alternate between using Study Island and Exact Path to help your students prepare for the ILEARN K-8. Your students use what you call “Edmentum data notebooks,” which contain data and graphs with their NWEA™ MAP® Growth™ scores and assessments to monitor their work and track their progress in each program. Tell me about how communicating with your students about their progress has boosted achievement in your class.
We use Exact Path’s and Study Island’s integration with NWEA to get students’ NWEA scores. For my students, having that notebook really shows my kids that their NWEA score is more than a number. I want them to understand, too, that their score doesn’t define them, but it’s there to help them. For example, when you look at the scale and see your weight, you know you’re more than that number; it doesn't define who you are. If you’ve been drinking more water, your scale doesn't say that.
So, what I told the kids with their NWEA score is to look at more than just the number; look at what it means. When we look at scores, we can see that you are great at computation, but maybe geometry isn't your thing, but you’ll know that when we get to the geometry unit. I think it’s valuable for the kids to know in advance: “I'm good at this, and this is an area, I'm not so great.” If they're aware of their own strengths and weaknesses ahead of time, then we can do more front-loading of skills to help them fill in where they have gaps.
In their notebooks, they have what's called a goal setting sheet, based on their NWEA score. So, let's say they received a 230 on their NWEA, but they still have some areas they need to work on. Based on their goal settings sheet, they know what standards or what activities need to be prioritized when they go to work in Study Island or Exact Path.
When I see their notebooks, it's a good conversation starter. I can say, “OK, what was your goal for these nine weeks? I saw that you were working on multiplication, converting multiplication; can I see your notes?” When it comes to using Exact Path and Study Island, I think, for teachers, the conferencing and the conversations with students are so important. In my class, we try to have fun and keep the kids engaged as much as we can, but the bottom line is that if students don't take ownership and monitor their learning, they're not going to master it.
I also use their Edmentum notebooks for parent conferences. When kids are struggling, I make sure that I have their notebook, and they're sitting right there with their parents or grandparents, and I say, “Let's look over it. Tell me, what have you been working on?” Keeping the notebooks holds my students accountable for their own learning and their own growth, and I think that is huge.
You make sure to keep your students involved and engaged with the data they're getting from Study Island and Exact Path. Is of the success that you see in the classroom?
I think so. Some of my students’ NWEA scores were remarkable. I was in awe—like I cried. And then, others—it's like, you want every child to make that tremendous progress, but you know that, sometimes, their brain just taps out for a while. But, I’m hoping I am teaching my students to think, “I own these scores.” I always say to them, “Who owns those scores? You guys do.” And, then I ask, “So who can make changes to those scores?” and they answer back, “We can!”
Sometimes, you just have to look at those small, small pieces of mastery of things because, with some kids, you're not going to see a lot of progress, but you are going to see some. That is just one of those things where you have to celebrate every step forward.
How do you involve and engage your students in their learning? What are some fun ways that you get your classroom going?
At the beginning of every month, we have coffeeshop in my classroom. I have a Keurig in my classroom, and the kids would say, “Why don't we get coffee?” The first couple coffeeshops that we had were just the students and I talking about what's going on in the classroom. At one point, I suggested that we talk about their work in Study Island and Exact Path, and I did not think that the kids would actually share some things, but they actually started sharing their notebooks. I kind of panicked for a little bit because [the data in their notebooks] was supposed to be private to the student, but they were so proud of their work, and again, I thought, “They're taking ownership in it.”
You’re a huge advocate for growth mindset, and you do such an amazing job of encouraging your students to always try their best to succeed. At the end of the year, what do you hope that your students are taking away with them as they walk out the door?
I hope that they learn that no matter what level of learning they're at, that they can see progress. It may not be the biggest progress of their life, but it’s still progress in the end. And, I hope that I've prepared them for the next grade and they know that they're ready. When they sit down at their first day of school, 6th graders always have to write letters to their 7th grade self. I hope that when they read those letters, they're able to reflect on what their deficits were when they came to 6th grade and be honest with themselves, and then when they look at it going, “Man, I worked hard to meet that goal.” When you accomplish something, that is a feeling that nobody else can take away.
I also hope that students know that they're all valuable. So many kids these days—they feel so defeated when they don't make a sport team or they don't get that grade that they wanted, but I hope they know that no matter what that score is, they own it—and they have, hopefully, I've given them so many opportunities and tools to keep improving. I go back to Stephen Hawking’s quote, “It matters that you don't just give up."
Interested in learning more about Edmentum’s Educator of the Year Awards and this year’s Inspiring Educator honorees? Take a look at this blog post announcing all of this year’s winners and check out more winner profiles!
Here more from this educator and our other Educator of the Year Award Winners in our upcoming webinar on Thursday, July 25 at 10 AM CST. Register here.