Collectively Embracing Productive Struggle

September 24th, 2016


Is anyone else amazed at how differently two people can see the same situation?  What’s even more amazing is how both can be correct!  Unfortunately, we often get stuck in the middle trying to prove that we are “right” and they are “wrong.”  This is both paralyzing and polarizing – and definitely not productive!

An obvious example of this is occurring in our country right now.  Do black lives matter or do blue lives matter?  The obvious answer is they both do—all lives matter!  That isn’t devaluing the concerns of any one group, it is valuing the concerns of everyone, and hopefully drawing us back to the importance of empathy, and cooperation – through personal responsibility.

Zig Ziglar once said, “Life is like an echo, what you send out comes back.”  I believe this is an accurate statement about human nature, but not about the capacity of humans.  We do have the freedom to choose.  We can choose to consider the opinions and perspectives of others.  We can choose to respectfully share ours, and we can choose to learn and grow together.

In most circumstances, I believe parents, educators, and outside agencies work together in a positive productive manner while trying to meet student needs.  On rare occasions, perspectives differ and the right steps aren’t as clear as we would like.  When this occurs, I pray that we can all presume the positive, move past the idea of right and wrong, and embrace the “productive struggle” that leads to new and better perspectives – and ultimately great things for our children.


Stretching to Learn . . .

August 23rd, 2016

Welcome back! 

From Superintendent Russ Adams

It’s that time of year again – a new beginning, a chance to refocus and undertake the important mission of fostering learning, excellence and civic responsibility at MOC-Floyd Valley!

We take this mission very seriously and as we strive to fulfill it this year we will be guided by our thematic goal for the year “Stretching to learn . . .”   As we wrestled with the question, “What is the most important thing we can do to help our students learn at the highest possible levels?” the concept of “stretching to learn . . .” rose to the top.

Over the years, I have written about the importance of a growth mindset and the need for us to cultivate a growth mindset in ourselves and our students.  This concept is not difficult for us to grasp, and most of us intuitively agree with it.  Developing a growth mindset involves more than just the words we speak, however.  We talk about the importance of effort, and we praise students for their thinking and problem-solving, but when we they are struggling, we often come to their aid and short-circuit the learning that could take place.  We interrupt, instead of nurturing productive struggle.

Struggling without hope for success is frustrating and overwhelming.  Struggling with the confidence that you will eventually succeed is productive and leads to deeper learning.  That’s why we are creating opportunities for our students to productively struggle – to wrestle with concepts, try new things, and learn in the process.  We are striving to construct learning tasks that they are meaningful, challenging and require work and thought, while at the same time providing the structure and support that allows for hope.  By doing this, we are confident that our students will be “stretching to learn . . .”

As always, we look forward to a year of serving our students and value the partnership with families and community members.  Best wishes on the new school year!

An Attitude of Gratitude

February 22nd, 2016

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I am struck by my own ignorance! I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually complain at times – when, in reality – I am about as blessed as a person could be. Thankfully, I receive periodic gentle reminders of this simple truth that drive me to an “attitude of gratitude.”

With that attitude in mind, I want to share my updated MOC-FV Gratitude List. I shared the original draft of this list with staff prior to my first year as superintendent at MOC-Floyd Valley. As I revisit it now, the intensity of my gratitude is greater than ever! Below is my updated gratitude list:

School Board

Who gives of their time with absolutely no monetary compensation? Who volunteers their time, talents, energy, and expertise to serve us, and everyone in the MOC-Floyd Valley School District? Who ultimately makes this such a great place to work and serve?

Thank you to our selfless, visionary MOC-FV School Board Members – Gerald Van Roekel, Shane Jager, Amy Kleinhesselink, Christine, Koerselman & Chris Immeker!

Transportation Staff

Who are the first and last school representatives that many of our students see every day? Who sets a positive tone by warmly and sincerely greeting students to start each day, and then safely transports them to and from school? Who, while watching the road, constantly makes sure that all students are treated respectfully?

Thank you to all of the patient, dedicated men and women who drive our buses and transport our MOC-FV students!

Food Service Staff

Who provides our students with the nutrition and energy they need to function throughout each da? And who does this while meeting numerous difficult, government-imposed requirements and still provides flavorful choice? Who works in a stiflingly hot kitchen, doesn’t always feel appreciated, but does all of this with a servant-hearted smile?

Thank you to our ultra-talented and efficient MOC-FV food service staff!


Who oversees all of the health needs of our students? Who juggles the required paperwork? Who works with parents, family members, other medical personnel, and all of us to make sure our students are educated despite various health needs? Who does this in all four buildings with the help of our building secretaries and some of our uniquely qualified staff members like Mr. Krohn?

Thank you our own Wonder Woman, Nurse Adams!

Custodial/Maintenance Staff

Who are the ultimate “behind-the-sceners” who keep things running, keep things clean, anticipate needs, and epitomize service? Who hears, “Could you fix . . . or could you get me . . . ? and always does their best to meet those requests while at the same time, keeping up with the messes and the needs that come from buildings used by hundreds of people every day?

Thank you to all of our amazing, servant-hearted MOC-FV custodial and maintenance staff!

Secretarial/Office/Business Staff

Who is the face and the voice of each building in our district? Who sets the tone by her smile and her unflappable demeanor when bombarded with requests from students, parents, teachers, and administrators? Who always seems to understand what we mean, even when we’re not completely clear in our questions or requests? Who seems to know everyone, helps everyone, and demonstrates more flexibility in a day than seems humanly possible?

Thank you to all of our wonderful, resourceful MOC-FV office personnel!

Aides, Associates & & Family-Partnership Liaison

Who epitomizes support? Who works closely with teachers to meet the needs of all of our students, and often gives that extra dose of love and support that ultimately makes the difference for many of our students with the greatest needs? Who is often instrumental in making sure that no child ever falls through the cracks?

Thank you to all of our caring, compassionate MOC-FV aides, associates & liaison!

Technology Staff

Who lives on the edge of what might be possible? Who is tasked to understand what many of us struggle to understand, and then to make it understandable and useable to us? Who is empowering us with technology and then helping us to understand and use the technology to deepen and add meaning to learning? Who fearlessly leads us through necessary changes while at the same time preparing and repairing all of our technology equipment and infrastructure?

Thank you to our tireless, creative, problem-solving MOC-FV technology team!


Who seems to have mastered the art of caring and listening? Who leads the way in supporting students and families when issues arise? Who connects people so that problems can be solved and healing can begin? Who makes it a priority to instill hope and find help?

Thank you to our empathetic, helpful, resourceful MOC-FV guidance counselors.


Who has a passion for students and a passion for curriculum? Who develops positive relationships with students, collaborates with colleagues, partners with parents and tirelessly works to meet each student where he or she is and take each one as far as possible? Who cultivates a love of learning and arms our students with the tools they will need to successfully meet the challenges ahead?

Thank you to our dedicated, hard-working professional MOC-FV teachers!

Coaches & Activity Sponsors

Who teaches students about character, honor, self-discipline, loyalty, effort, teamwork and humility? Who teaches students that “it is more important to be your best, than to be the best?” Who masterfully uses co-curricular activities to give our students a sense of belonging and an understanding of being a part of something bigger than self?

Thank you to our tireless, giving, passionate coaches and sponsors!

Building Administrators

Who oversees our efforts as a system and insures that our practices align with our mission? Who develops routines and procedures that allow everyone else in the system to do their jobs? Who models learning, challenges, and supports students and staff. Who selflessly leads and cares deeply?

Thank you to our bright, articulate, caring building administrators.

Community Partners

Who extends the walls of the school so that our students have real, relevant learning opportunities?   Who collaborates with teachers and students to bring learning to life? Who even provides material support to students and to programs?

Thank you to our world-expanding, “child-raising village” of community partners!

Parents & Families

Who are the most significant leaders of learning in the lives of our students? Who invests all that they have into their children? Who sacrifices time, energy, and resources to make life for their children the best it can be? Who are the most important partners we have?

Thank you to our involved, engaged, supportive MOC-FV parents and families!


Who is the reason we exist? Who holds the keys to our future – and theirs? Who encourages us with their optimism, humbles us with their honesty, and amazes us with their growth? Who makes every day a joy at MOC-Floyd Valley?

Thank you to our wonderful, world-changing students!


Below are a few gratitude quotes worth considering:

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”

John F. Kennedy

“We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.”

Neal A. Maxwell

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

William Arthur Ward

“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.”

Brené Brown

“It has been said that life has treated me harshly; and sometimes I have complained in my heart because many pleasures of human experience have been withheld from me…if much has been denied me, much, very much, has been given me…”

Helen Keller

What message are we sending . . .

November 21st, 2015

Earlier this year, I attended a conference led by education consultant and author, Steve Barkley. He shared with the group, how proud he is of his granddaughter and how well she does in school. He described how she had gone the entire first quarter without missing any of her spelling words and earning 100 percent on all of her other academic tasks.

If Mr. Barkley’s granddaughter was our child, how many of us would react to her school performance with great pride and satisfaction? Mr. Barkley’s reaction was much different. It’s not that he wasn’t proud of his granddaughter, but he was concerned that she might not be facing challenges that would cause her to learn and grow.

Mr. Barkley’s perspective challenges me, and anyone who is committed to helping young people develop. As we work with and support our children, I believe it is more important than ever that we emphasize the right things. With that in mind, consider the following:

  • Do we value A’s more than we value learning?
  • Do we value being right more than we value doing right?
  • Do we value convenience more than we value contribution?
  • Do we value playing time more than we value being part of a team?
  • Do we value self-esteem more than we value self-awareness?
  • Do we value comfort more than we value struggles?

It isn’t bad when our children struggle. Our role isn’t to remove the struggles, our role is to equip our children to face and overcome those struggles. By doing so, I believe we are preparing them for the future and instilling in them a growth mindset that will serve them well no matter what they face.

Student Achievement

November 21st, 2015

Each year the MOC-Floyd Valley Community School District submits to the Iowa Department of Education an Annual Progress Report (APR). The APR serves two main purposes: to comply with the federal legislation, No Child Left Behind, and to report to the local community the progress that the district is making towards the annual student achievement goals. Other information such as post-secondary data, early intervention goals, and attendance data are also provided. The report is generally submitted in September to the State of Iowa and shared via the district newsletter in November.

In addition to meeting the reporting requirement, we use this—and other data—to determine how to best focus our efforts as a school district. Based upon all considered data, our district focus is “to design our system so that we improve learning for all students and lessen the achievement gap between “all students” and our Low SES, IEP, and ELL subgroups

Student Achievement goals involve the district’s School Improvement Advisory Council, Leadership Team, Building Teams, and the Board of Education. The Board-adopted student achievement goal, supporting initiatives, and measurable progress indicators for 2014-15 are shown below:

District Goal: All K-12 students will achieve at high levels in reading comprehension, math, and science prepared for success beyond high school. In addition, increased student learning will be demonstrated in all curricular areas through the use of formative and summative assessment data.

  • Supporting Initiatives: PLC—Collaborative Learning Teams, Iowa Core Implementation, Reading Strategies, Cognitive Guided Instruction, APL Instructional Strategies, & Authentic Intellectual Work.
  • Measurable Progress Indicator
    • Reading Comprehension
      • 90% of 3rd – 11th Grade students will score in the proficient range or demonstrate at least one year’s growth on the Iowa Assessments
    • Math
      • 88% of 3rd – 11th Grade students will score in the proficient range or demonstrate at least one year’s growth on the Iowa Assessments.
    • Science & Social Studies
      • 90% of 3rd – 11th Grade students will score in the proficient range or demonstrate at least one year’s growth on the Iowa Assessments.
    • General
      • Curriculum Specialists will report progress on specific curriculum area student-learning goals.

The APR is based upon Iowa Assessment data for our school district. Below is some summarized data for reading and math.

Grade Level                       Student Group                    % Proficient in Reading                  % Proficient in Math

Grades 3-5                            All Students                                          92.33%                                                  90.67%

Grades 3-5                            Low SES Students                               88.24%                                                  82.35%

Grades 3-5                            IEP Students                                         80%                                                        76.67%

Grades 3-5                            ELL Students                                       NR*                                                        NR*


Grade Level                        Student Group                     % Proficient in Reading                  % Proficient in Math

Grades 6-8                            All Students                                          85.32%                                                  91.67%

Grades 6-8                            Low SES Students                               76.92%                                                  84.62%

Grades 6-8                            IEP Students                                         33.33%                                                  50%

Grades 6-8                            ELL Students                                       NR*                                                        NR*


Grade Level                        Student Group                     % Proficient in Reading                  % Proficient in Math

Grade 11                               All Students                                          92.16%                                                  94.12%

Grade 11                               Low SES Students                               83.33%                                                  83.33%

Grade 11                               IEP Students                                         NR*                                                        NR*

Grade 11                               ELL Students                                       NR*                                                        NR*

*NR = Not reportable because the number of students was too low

ACT Testing Data:

ACT provides a benchmark score on subject-area tests to indicate a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college course. The Benchmark scores are as follows: College English Composition = ACT English-18 or higher, College Algebra = ACT Math-22 or higher, College Social Science = ACT Reading-22, College Biology = ACT Science-23.


College Course MOC-FV Iowa Nation
College English Composition 89% 75% 64%
College Algebra 53% 48% 42%
College Social Science 80% 55% 46%
College Biology 67% 48% 38%
Met All Four 41% 33% 28%


Five-year trend data for our student scores on the ACT test are shown below:

Academic Year Reading Reading English English
2010-11 24.5 22.6 23.6 21.7
2011-12 24.5 22.5 23.8 21.6
2012-13 24.3 22.5 24.3 21.5
2013-14 24.6 22.5 24.4 21.5
2014-15 25.1 22.7 23.7 21.6
Academic Year
Math Math Science Science
2010-11 22.3 21.9 24.2 22.4
2011-12 22.2 21.7 24.2 22.2
2012-13 23.5 21.6 24.6 22.2
2013-14 22.1 21.4 24 22.2
2014-15 22 21.5 23.9 22.3
Academic Year Composite Composite
2010-11 23.8 22.3
2011-12 23.7 22.1
2012-13 24.3 22.1
2013-14 23.9 22
2014-15 23.9 22.2


You can find the entire Annual Progress Report at,, or a hard copy can be obtained at the MOC-Floyd Valley School District Office, located at 709 8th Street South East.

Focus on Learning . . .

November 17th, 2015

At MOC-Floyd Valley, we are striving to make every classroom a place of rich and valuable learning for all students. Such a systemic goal requires clear and focused collaboration throughout the district. One of the tools we use to assess our efforts and provide direction is a process called, “Instructional Rounds” – which is the educational version of medical rounds used in many medical school programs.
Instructional Rounds are a disciplined way for educators to work together to improve instruction (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2009). The process combines three common elements of improvement: classroom observation, an improvement strategy, and a network of educators.
Rounds visits are centered on the instructional core – the teacher, the students, and the content. There are seven principles of the instructional core that guide our work (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2009). They are:
1) Increases in student learning occur only as a consequence of improvements in the level of the content, teachers’ knowledge & skill, and student engagement.
2) If you change any single element of the instructional core, you have to change the other two.
3) If you can’t see it in the core, it’s not there.
4) Task predicts performance.
5) The real accountability system is in the tasks that students are asked to do.
6) We learn to do the work by doing the work, not by telling other people to do the work, not by having done the work at some time in the past, and not by hiring experts who can act as proxies for our knowledge about how to do the work.
7) Description before analysis, analysis, before prediction, and prediction before evaluation.
At MOC-Floyd Valley, we are conducting Rounds visits in each building two times per year. These visits are focused on different elements of the instructional core, and they align with our professional development efforts. The data collected provides us with proof that what we have deemed important is either working or isn’t working.
Administrators, instructional coaches and teachers work together to design and conduct the visits. All staff members are engaged in processing the data and implementing any identified changes. From there, we repeat the cycle as a part of our commitment to continuous improvement that is centered on learning.

Welcome Back!

August 19th, 2015

What an exciting time of year! The start of school, like the start of most things is filled with anticipation, hope, and energy. This is true for everyone involved, students, parents and school personnel. As we get underway, please consider this your invitation to join us in this exciting educational journey as we strive to embody our District Mission of “fostering learning, excellence, and civic responsibility!”

With this mission in mind, everyone who serves at MOC-Floyd Valley will strive to consistently radiate the following characteristics:

  • Focus on Learning
  • Positive Outlook & Demeanor
  • Clear/High Expectations
  • Quality Collaboration
  • Clear Communication
  • Servant’s Heart
  • Clear Focus Positive Role Modelling
  • Vision
  • Wisdom
  • Growth Mindset
  • Timely Support
  • High Engagement
  • Belief & Hope
  • Unconditional Respect
  • Empathy & Compassion
  • Open Mind
  • Flexibility
  • Sense of Humor
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-Control

Below are the foci that the MOC-Floyd Valley School District will emphasize during the 2015-16 school year.

  • Focus #1:  We will be a community of learners and will assist all students to learn at high levels while continuing our emphasis on closing the achievement gap between all students and our low SES, IEP, and ELL subgroups.
  • Focus #2: We will develop a positive, safe culture where everyone is respected, valued, and included – where collaboration and engagement are the norm.
  • Focus #3:  We will strengthen relationships and provide support to families in an effort to strengthen that ever-important partnership.
  • Focus #4:  We will provide meaningful professional development that strengthens all points of the Learning Triangle.
  • Focus #5:  We will empower students and staff to utilize technology to deepen, strengthen and expand learning.
  • Focus #6: We will strive to maintain or improve the financial health of the district while providing high quality educational and co-curricular programs that allow us to fulfill our mission of “fostering learning, excellence and civic responsibility.”

We have an exceptional team of educators and support staff; sincere, supportive parents; and eager, talented students. It is our belief that placing our energy and efforts in these areas will lead to the highest possible levels of learning and achievement for our students. We are certainly looking forward to the journey!


The Realities of Leading with Finite Resources

April 23rd, 2015

As I consider the state of limbo that we find ourselves in from a school funding perspective, I am both frustrated and empathetic.


I am frustrated by the lack of bi-partisan leadership these days – both in our Nation’s capital and in our State capital. I truly believe that our elected legislators have a desire to serve their constituents well. Unfortunately, allegiance to one’s party seems to eliminate the possibility of sincere, frank discussion that leads to a mutual agreement of the facts and a commitment to the best decisions.

I am also frustrated by the double standard used by our elected officials. Each week I receive updates from several legislators stating their positions on different issues. Often legislators lead by saying, “According to State law, we must . . .” This opener is used to explain positions and justify actions, but has been conveniently avoided when it comes to the timely establishment of State Supplemental Aid for K-12 Education.


It is easy to state my frustration, but it is important to acknowledge the difficult job that our legislators face. The government, like families, school districts, and businesses, has a limited amount of resources to distribute.   The greater the number of people affected, the greater the variance in priorities. As Stephen Covey stated so eloquently, “When we say ‘yes’ to one thing, we say ‘no’ to another.” Ultimately choices have to be made.   I certainly empathize with our legislators as they decide how to best distribute the resources available to meet the needs of Iowans.

My plea to legislators during this session has, and will continue to be, “please remove the ‘we vs. they’ mentality that seems to pervade politics, and work together to determine – and then do what you collectively determine is best for Iowa.”

Technology to support learning at MOC-Floyd Valley

February 19th, 2015

Technology – it certainly has changed the way we interact with and see the world! At MOC-Floyd Valley, we are working to embrace the opportunities and manage the challenges that come with ever-changing technology. Last year, during our strategic plan, we established the following goal regarding technology to support learning at MOC-Floyd Valley: “Students will utilize technology to engage effectively in a world saturated with technology.”

In support of this goal, we are working to create a situation where students and teachers are able to consistently and easily utilize technology to:

    • Deepen learning and enhance problem-solving skills
    • Heighten engagement
    • Individualize and personalize instruction and learning
    • Multiply students’ interaction and interplay with the world
    • Create relevance and real-life context
    • Efficiently manage important data that drives instruction
    • Communicate easily and seamlessly w/ various stakeholders in order to partner in the educational process

We are committed to providing the network and devices to allow for this type of teaching/learning environment. Thanks to the expertise of our district technology team (currently made up of Jack Bonnecroy, Joel Bundt and Sandy Groom Meeks), the network and infrastructure throughout the district are strong. Because of this, we have been able to increase the number of devices for students and staff, while continuing to have adequate internet access.

We are attempting to design our system to maximize our resources, stay as current as possible with the technology, and minimize the maintenance needs. We have developed a five-year plan for purchasing/leasing to support this design, and we are planning to hire additional personnel to assist in the maintenance and upkeep of all of the technology we have.

Just as important as having the devices and access, is having the skills and mindset necessary to utilize them. Sandy Groom Meeks joined the MOC-Floyd Valley team as our technology integration specialist this year. She works tirelessly to assist staff members and students in developing these ever-important skills and mindset. We are making great strides in this area, and with the Teacher Leadership Grant in place next year, each building will also have building-level technology leader to assist Sandy in serving teachers.



Grit and a Growth Mindset

November 19th, 2014

Two related and very similar qualities can lead to success for all of our students. They are relatively simple concepts and parents and school personnel have frequent opportunities to teach, develop and reinforce them.

The first of these qualities is what Stanford professor and psychologist, Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” Those with a growth mindset believe that success comes from effort. On the other hand, people who believe that success comes from being born with the gift of intelligence or talent have a “fixed mindset.”

The second, related quality, is “Grit,” which University of Pennsylvania professor and psychologist Angela Duckworth defines as, “persistence, determination & resilience.”

Having a growth mindset is a great start. It gives us hope that we can affect the outcome of any situation. It gives us a reason to try and a reason to take risks. When we follow up with grit, we are able to deal with the disappointments and setbacks that inevitably come. We are able to focus on the benefits of the journey and not get discouraged when obstacles arise.

As parents, one of the most difficult things is watching our children struggle. Our instinct tells us to protect them from any pain and hurt that comes from failure. In some cases, we do need to step in, but in more, we need to put our energy into encouraging them to persist and believe that their efforts will make a difference. We also need to continually focus on learning—whether it is in a classroom, in relationships, or in an athletic or fine arts activity.

If our real expectation is that our children do their best, learn as much as they can, and act with character and integrity, we will praise and focus on those things and remove the focus and emphasis on a specific grade or an expectation for a certain amount of playing time. A’s and playing time are nice, but they are secondary to developing grit and adhering to a growth mindset.