Getting to Know Region 4 Coaches

123_1       Region 4 coaches, Karrie Jayo and Rhonda Urquidi, serve teachers in the Magic Valley and beyond.  From Burley to Glenns Ferry and Wood River to Castleford, these coaches work with urban and rural school districts in a variety of grade levels, content areas, and specialists.  Get to know each coach below:

An Appreciative Inquiry Biography of Karrie Jayo (written by Region 1 coach Kate Keinert)                                                                                                karrie

Karrie Jayo joins the Idaho Coaching Network team as a Region IV coach after having participated as a teacher leader (first new, then twice as a Returning Teacher) over the past three years.  Her colleagues recognize her as an innovative, open-minded, lifelong learner who brings curiosity and vicissitude to her new role.  

Born in Alaska, Karrie has lived just about everywhere as part of an Air Force family, but she has found home in Hagerman with her husband of 37 years, Jeff.  She is exponentially proud of her three children, two sons and a daughter, and six grandkids.  Karrie uses her talents as a “doer;” she is someone who plans ahead, is a caretaker of others, and uses creativity to extend kindness, love, and gratitude to all she meets.  When she’s not working, Karrie enjoys sewing, hiking, and gardening; she also loves reading and getting together with friends.  Her love of travel carries through from her early life as a child growing up in the Air Force; Karrie embraces change and new experiences.  She is a pleasure to know; a joyful, energetic friend and colleague.

Karrie believes there is real power in collaboration: she herself was especially inspired by the opportunity she had during her most recent year as a Returning Teacher to observe another classroom teacher and, in return, be observed.  “It’s not like when your administrator comes in,” she explained.  Participating in this exchange made Karrie realize, “This teacher I got to observe was awesome!  And we were sharing so many ideas and strategies–I was able  to acknowledge that I might be pretty awesome too.”   These observations not only reassured Karrie in her practices, but the experience raised her spirits and sense of self-efficacy.  Karrie looks forward to providing similarly uplifting and empowering experiences for future teacher participants in the program.

After serving 20 years as a classroom teacher, Karrie is proud of her reputation as a forward-thinker, someone who doesn’t get too comfortable or too set in her ways.  She sees the role of Idaho Core Coach as an opportunity to continue growing and honing her craft as she guides and mentors fellow teachers in their own growth and new learning.  Karrie views this job as an opportunity to connect with teachers and to  inspire them to take risks in their teaching, to be excited about trying new strategies, and to collaborate in a caring and supportive environment.  If Idaho Core is about growing confident, motivated teacher leaders, and we believe it is, Karrie is a prime example of the program’s potential.  And, in true Idaho Coaching Network spirit, Karrie envisions herself as a capacity-builder in Region IV, with goals of building a solid foundation for teachers both new and returning to the program and of increasing participation across every district in the region.  

An Appreciative Inquiry Biography of Rhonda Urquidi (written by Academic Services  Director at the Idaho State Department of Education Scott Cook)

Rhonda-Urquidi-Edited hair

What does it take to strike off into uncharted territory, voluntarily leaving a solid, stable and wonderfully supportive educational life to throw in with the Idaho Coaching Network, into the unknown? Ask Rhonda Urquidi, a first year Idaho Coaching Network coach serving Region 4, and she might say, with no apparent contradiction, that it is both hard and easy. Hard because her heart is with her students and fellow educators at Mountain Home High School where she has taught most recently 9th and 11th grade English and AVID.  Easy because, as she would say, the pull to grow, be inventive and innovative, and see what is around the corner is at the  heart of her educational journey. This belief was highlighted by watching her mother continue to grow, ask questions, and innovate throughout her own career in teaching, and from having the  unique experience of going through the Boise State Writing Project with her mom in 2007 as a fellow. This seminal experience that focused on inquiry has led to much professional growth and introduced her to a fertile learning community that has been and continues to be an inspiration.   

Largely because of this experience and these  connections, Rhonda is also no stranger to offering professional learning to colleagues having created and carried out a number of inquiry based- workshops on literacy and the  higher expectations  in English Language Arts under the auspices of the  BSU Writing Project and the Idaho State Department of Education. In thinking about next year,  her twin goals  for Region 4 are to grow the network, making sure that all voices are heard, all perspectives valued, and building a place, above all, where it is safe to take risks. Lastly, though  Rhonda thrives on  stability and structure, she equally values  flexibility, innovation, and reaching for the stars with feet firmly planted. So, on to challenges, myriad  opportunities for growth and innovation, community building, and defining and living the future

Meet Region VI

Region VI is a rugged land known as Southeastern Idaho, or God’s country. Region VI  spans a great distance from the southern high desert plains of Blackfoot to the snow-capped Bitteroot Mountains and Bighorn Crags in Salmon, and west from the White Clouds and Sawtooth ranges in Challis to the Grand Tetons in Driggs. The people in Southeastern Idaho primarily work as farmers, ranchers, biologists, and guides in the rugged land, to nuclear engineers and technology gurus along the Snake River Plain. Such diversity of land and people make Southeastern Idaho a desirable place to live and raise families.

Merri Ann Drake, Region VI — Written by Ann Christensen

Coming from Driggs, Idaho and now living in Blackfoot Merri Ann has a love for Eastern Idaho. She cares about its people. She also has a love for learning and education. As one of the original eight literacy coaches for the Idaho Coaching Network she can embrace both these loves as she services Region VI educators.


Merri Ann demonstrates flexibility for learning by recognizing the needs of others, meeting them where they are, and guiding them to self-discovery. She realizes that participants in the Idaho Coaching Network are more than just teachers. They are coaches, PD presenters, conversationalists, cheerleaders, and thinking partners. So many titles require creativity and flexibility on Merri Ann’s part to assist in the growth of all. And, she does this with eloquence, style and compassion.


Merri Ann truly does believe that all people can grow. She believes that learning and reflecting on learning is key to growth and forward movement. “Reflecting provides the path to communicating what I’ve learned to others.” says Merri Ann. She continues with, “I used to learn to benefit myself and my students. Now, I learn to benefit the teachers I work with and their students.” Merri Ann’s colleagues agree that she loves sharing her learning.


Merri Ann’s commitment to sharing reflects her personal values leading to compassion and brilliant communication with others.


Valuing collaboration and whole team playing requires giving autonomy and acceptance of others’ autonomy. Merri Ann holds collaboration and whole team playing as priorities to success. In order to move forward, all players must have a voice, time to express that voice, process others’ voices, and time for discussion in order to proceed. When presenting Merri Ann demonstrates this very value. She allows participants to discuss topics, come to conclusions and then proceeds with new learning concerning the topic. She truly models her values of collaboration and communication. Her repeated modeling is evident in watching her participants follow the same protocol. While presenting what may have seemed to be a less than exciting PD topic, one of Merri Ann’s teachers allowed time for participants to voice their concerns and push back on the topic. Her teacher waited while collaboration happened and then, when participants were ready, moved forward with the PD. This is just one of many examples of how Merri Ann’s modeling a personal value in education is transferred to others.  


Merri Ann is an exceptional coach through her modeling, insight, and compassion to others. She is a true asset to the Idaho Coaching Network.

Nancy Chaffin, Region VI — Written by April Niemela

Creating a culture of risk-taking, reciprocal support, and authentic growth is a particular passion of Nancy Chaffin. (Want to pronounce her name correctly? Think the “ch” from Chai and rhyme it with laugh’n). An Idaho Core Coach in Region 6 since 2016, she went through the program as a Core Teacher in 2015-16. She brings her special blend of strength-based affirmation and voracious desire to learn to the Coaching Team.


Whether she’s serving as a thinking partner one-on-one or co-facilitating a workshop with her regional partner, Merri Ann Drake, her goal is to create a learning community. Ensuring that Core Teachers feel right at home and experience a sense of belonging and safety — even as they grapple with new learning and transfer literacy strategies into their own classes and contexts — is her first goal. And it is often because of this affirming culture of inquiry and creativity that Nancy’s teachers experience ongoing success, design innovative lessons, or find the courage to face difficult tasks.


What makes Nancy so effective as a Coach? She has a magical way of listening deeply and hearing each voice, both what is said and what is not being said. She affirms one’s very soul in the way she listens and the way she reflects back the words or thoughts just said. An example of this lies at the heart of a coaching experience she had this year with a teacher who was facing a unique challenge. In a pre-observation conversation, this teacher shared both her frustrations with her students’ lack of growth and her fears. Throughout the observation, Nancy noted crux instructional moves and in her post-observation discussion, highlighted these strengths. Upon reflecting on her lesson through this strength-based approach, as well as the ways in which her students engaged with the material, the teacher realized that the students really had risen to her high expectations through her careful scaffolding and tender nurturing. Her excitement bubbled up and she couldn’t help but share this newfound confidence with Nancy. It was through her attentive listening that Nancy provided space for the teacher to share, to reflect, and to gain confidence in her own teaching. At one point during a different coaching session, this same teacher stopped mid-sentence, looked at Nancy, and said, “Oh my goodness. I can’t remember the last time somebody listened to me like that.”


Nancy believes that each of us has unique gifts, some kind of genius to contribute to the world. One of her purposes as Coach and as a human being is to create an environment where teachers can contribute and develop their full potentials, share their strengths, their beauty, their unique selves. Through intentional listening and affirming crux instructional moves, she helped this teacher to see how she had transformed learning within her own classroom. This teacher discovered her unique gift in crafting student-centered lessons.


Nancy is a lifelong learner herself and espouses the philosophy that there’s always room for growth. She believes that we should all seek to grow forward, discard practices that are ineffective, and embrace habits that empower and enrich. She seeks to understand through intentional listening, asking questions of clarification, and slowing the conversation down as needed. And it’s this listening that creates space for learning and self-reflection and growth. This commitment to hearing her teachers’ needs and seeing their strengths is grounded in her values of engendering trust, nurturing growth, and embracing what is uplifting.

Modeling the life-long learner and growth mindset that she wants to see in her teachers, Nancy continually seeks out opportunities that hone her knowledge base and her coaching abilities. She has recently earned her Master’s in Teaching English Language Arts (TELA).




Getting to Know Region 3 Coaches

Region 3 Coaches Brandon Bolyard, Jackie Miller, and Emily Morgan serve teachers in throughout the Treasure Valley and beyond. With Region 3 stretching from the Idaho/Oregon border to New Meadows Meadows to Idaho City to Mountain Home, these coaches work with urban and rural school districts and a variety of grade levels, content areas, and specialists. Read on for an introduction to our three Region 3 Coaches through the lens of Appreciative Inquiry Interviews.

An Appreciative Inquiry Biography of Brandon Bolyard (written by Region 1 coach Katie Graupman)

For this flower gardener, being an Idaho Core Coach has been a growing experience as he cultivates relationships with teachers to help them flourish. Brandon Bolyard finds connections between his fifteen years of classroom experience teaching English Language Arts and Journalism  and his two years as an Idaho Core Coach.  That connection?  It’s all about supporting others through growth and helping teachers move forward on their own paths.  In many ways, Brandon has been coaching all along, as a teacher, a newspaper advisor, a department chair, and now as a Region 3 Idaho Core Coach.  

Brandon’s gift for helping educators grow stems from multiple strengths. Part of Brandon’s magic is that he helps teachers untangle their own thorny situations. He trusts them to find their own paths while providing the structure and understanding to help them explore possibilities and find the opportunities within the challenges.  Understanding that a growth mindset is essential to creating lasting impact, Brandon enriches others’ lives by believing deeply in them.

One of the ways Brandon demonstrates his deep belief in educators is by harnessing the transformative power of story, helping individuals discover and become the authors of  their own narrative.  Sometimes the roots of the stories teachers share are grounded in painful experiences and sometimes in celebration. Brandon believes all of these stories are important to tell and to hear–to break down the silos of  isolation, to give strength in recognizing the authentic struggle of teachers, and to celebrate the greatness of teachers. Authentic, thoughtful, playful and reflective, Brandon brings out the best in others by listening to their stories with empathy and kindness.

Brandon’s frequent coaching companion is Zora, his three-year old, domestic, short-haired, brown, black, and white Tabby.  Zora enjoys inserting herself into virtual chats with other Idaho Core Coaches, meowing the moment he starts talking, poking at his computer screen as he crafts workshops and emails,  jumping on bookshelves behind Brandon and batting baubles to the floor.   Brandon alternately enjoys and suffers the companionship of this feline friend.

Brandon “can’t help but find joy” as he grows alongside his teachers. With patience and kindness, Brandon builds relationships of trust and understanding, delighting in helping each person achieve his or her full potential–to support and strengthen the vines of the most well established teacher veteran and to encourage new teachers to blossom and come into their own. Brandon understands it takes time and care to cultivate a garden that is beautiful and lasting.

Looking forward, Brandon hopes to expand his garden of work by mentoring new teachers in the Idaho Coaching Network and by building on the relationships with the teachers he works with already.  Through this work, Brandon creates beauty, joy, and a legacy of lasting impact.

If you’d like to connect with Brandon, you can email him at  or follow him on Twitter at @bolyard.

An Appreciative Inquiry Biography of Jackie Miller (written by Region 5 coach Scott Corgatelli)

Jackie Miller is a coaches’ coach, quite literally. Not only does Jackie serve as a Region III Core Coach in the Idaho Coaching Network, she also serves to coach the coaches in the Idaho Coaching Network as part of leadership team for the Network. In both of her roles, Jackie encourages those under her care to work hard and to reach their professional and personal goals. While goal oriented and driven toward perfection herself, Jackie strives to strengthen individuals through connection, understanding, empathy, and goal setting. In all of her roles, Jackie makes it clear that she values creativity and embraces challenges as opportunities for growth. She strives to find growth opportunities in every situation. She does this as an extension of her own journey.

Jackie’s journey of becoming a coaches’ coach began by being Involved in the Boise State Writing Project where she met an incredible group of teacher leaders who modeled and mentored her.  Her journey led her to becoming  a teacher consultant with the Boise State Writing Project. As a teacher consultant, she led district and statewide professional development. As is so often the case, opportunities led to new opportunities, and during the first year of the Idaho Coaching Network, Jackie was invited to be part of the first cohort of teachers. As is her style, Jackie brought along a few colleagues to join her in the grand adventure. At the end of her second year in the program, A Jackie was encouraged to become a coach in the Network. Because of her passionate love for her students, she struggled to decide, but saw the chance to grow, so she applied. Jackie says that leaving the classroom was very difficult. She chose to take on the coaching position because of the opportunity to make a bigger impact on education in Idaho. In the course of her tenure with the Network, Jackie has fallen in love with helping teachers better themselves and watching them become consciously competent and efficacious in their role as educators. Of course Jackie can relate to her teachers because not that long ago she was where they are…

If you’d like to connect with Jackie, you can email her at  or follow her on Twitter at @jackie_mmiller.

An Appreciative Inquiry Biography of Emily Morgan (written by Region 2 coach Jill Diamond)

To Emily, life offers infinite opportunity to explore. Always open to adventure, she builds her orientation skills daily through tasks small and large: reading, writing, running, biking, and learning about life through the eyes of her two sons. When she is hours deep in endurance training, running the Boise foothills, she often calls on a running partner or a catalyst to help her persevere and finish strong. She offers this same support when she coaches; partnering with teachers to learn side by side, persevering through obstacles together. Most importantly, Emily supports others while they explore their internal landscape, guiding them to see the very best in themselves and their teaching practice.

Emily first explored the Idaho Coaching Network as a participant. She was excited to find like-minded teachers who loved what they do, who were eager to share successes and reflect on mistakes. She believes that teachers need a safe space, free of judgement, filled with humor and fun. No stranger to cultivating loving communities, she ensures the Idaho Coaching Network provides that sanctuary for teachers to explore their passions and out their frustrations and fears.

Above all, Emily values human connection. She listens with an open heart, always eager to hear possibility. She fills every conversation with her robust laughter, each learning space with her creative energy.  Everyone in any room hopes secretly, that they will get to a chance to explore  side by side with Emily.

If you’d like to connect with Emily, you can email her at  or follow her on Twitter at @emilymorgan2002.

Getting to Know Our Departing Coaches

Our departing coaches, Anne Christensen of Region 4 and 5, Kate Keinert of Region 1, and Jayna Eichelberger of Region 3, leave a lasting legacy in the Idaho Coaching Network and their work will echo long after they have gone. Their dedication to Idaho’s teachers and students leaves a distinct impact. While they have been relentless about their work as coaches and mentors, we wish them well as they embark on new adventures. Read on for a salute to our departing coaches through the lens of Appreciative Inquiry Interviews.

An Appreciative Inquiry Biography of Ann Christensen

Written by Merri Ann Drake, Region 6 Coach

Ann Christensen loves baseball and boxing and uses that same kind of passion to fight for equity in education for her students and colleagues. As one of the original coaches with the Idaho Coaching Network team, Ann used her can-do spirit to design, build, and refine the network’s recursive work with educators in both Regions IV and V. Ann says that she feels best and happiest when she sees those she’s teaching recognize their own growth and learning. She rejoices when veteran teachers rediscover their passion for improving teaching and learning in the classroom, and encouraging others to recommit to lifelong learning. Ann also celebrates and delights in relays, or true collaboration, between rookie and seasoned teachers to bring about self-actualization through aha moments.

Ann says she knocks it out of the park by her investment in building relationships, and Ann is not afraid to go deep by making a time and a space to be with her learners, digitally or in person. She admits that time with others uses much of her energy, but that the converse of that is how she is reinvigorated by the challenge of working with other teachers who push her to new limits and to grow. Truly, Ann has a genuine interest in the well-being and growth of her learners and trains by learning, collaborating with others, and by trying new strategies.

One of Ann’s mantras and deepest held beliefs is, “My certainty is greater than your doubt” (Buck, 2006 p ). Ann firmly maintains her belief in all her students, and that she can help to improve the educational trajectory of their lives. Though she has not always had a Growth Mindset herself, Ann attributes much of her success in learning and coaching to her new Growth Mindset, or belief that challenge leads to learning and that everyone can learn. She now finds herself in the scoring position with all bases loaded, and is excited to return to classroom in Pocatello School District with her knowledge and coaching skills, and to give this gift to her students.

Three wishes Ann has as she returns to the classroom are that all her students will recognize that they can achieve and use that knowledge to pursue their dreams; that she can maintain her energy and passion for teaching, and that she can find many opportunities to celebrate her students’ achievements with them. Certainly, her can-do spirit will change the lives of her students and have a deep and lasting impact for good on the community around her as she joins and plays with her new team.

An Appreciative Inquiry Biography of Kate Keinert

Written by Karrie Jayo, Region 4 Coach 

Kate Keinert is motivated by collaborating with fellow teachers and administrators to help ensure success for students.  With her positive, energetic outlook she is able to spread her enthusiasm for learning to those she works with, both fellow teachers and students.  Kate’s goal is to empower teachers and to provide them with the tools that will engage their students and reignite the spark for teaching.  When mentoring teachers, Kate focuses on “naming what is good” and making sure they know what is working well.  As a purpose-driven person, she can visualize the overall picture and help plan for the details to meet those goals.

After teaching for eight years and spending one year as a district instructional coach, Kate is a perfect team member for the Idaho Coaching Network.  Kate’s energy is infectious and teachers will be energized by new strategies and ideas to use in their classrooms.  In addition, Kate enjoys opportunities for collaboration and is excited when those she is working with step outside their comfort zone and experience professional and personal growth. Kate has an encouraging influence in helping transform districts to meet the challenges many are facing.

Kate and her husband, Brandon, live in Priest River in beautiful northern Idaho.  They love spending time outside with their three young children and Brandon’s college age daughter.  Brandon teaches history; therefore, Kate gets personal history lessons which she says keeps her grounded.  Kate loves to be active and not only enjoys strengthening her body, but her mind as well.  She appreciates a challenge and her mantra is, “I have a unique viewpoint and can succeed in any creative pursuit.”  This outlook allows Kate to look forward and to embrace opportunities when they come her way.

An Appreciative Inquiry Biography of Jayna Eichelberger

Written by Diann Roberts, English Language Arts/Literacy Coordinator, Idaho State Department of Education

Jayna Eichelberger has been an educator for 27 years, and throughout that time has worked diligently to support those around her develop intrinsic skills to grow in their professional careers, and develop strong students. She is a true believer that dignity and hope are powerful tools for developing professional and personal growth in the lives of educators. Jayna takes every opportunity provided to learn and grow from all those she encounters, learning new and powerful lessons from new and seasoned educators as well as new educators just entering the professions. Understanding that life provides lessons every day, and knowing that we can learn and share the power of those lessons to support each other in life, is an embedded philosophy within Jayna’s life and the work she has done with educators this last year through the Coaching Network as a Kindergarten through Third grade (K-3) Coach.

One of Jayna’s strengths is her acknowledgement and understanding of how easy and comfortable it can be to stay safe within our own self established walls of our routines. By having a true understanding of how easy it is to stay within your  “safe mode”, she is able to also find the value of embracing a “Growth Mindset” and using every opportunity that comes her way to learn and grow. She strives to have her work with educators and students focus on the positivity of working outside of those safe places, and embrace the everyday challenges and experiences that develop strong learners. As she moves back into the classroom, Jayna will be striving to support her students, and fellow educators, with respect, encouragement, and in a dignified manner as they work to keep hope, develop strength and build strong personal and professional relationships within their educational profession.

Jayna has been a strong advocate for Idaho’s educators and students in her work with the Idaho Coaching Network, and she will continue to be a strong for her individual students as she returns to the classroom. She will be missed within the network in the years to come, but the students in her classroom are very lucky indeed.




Getting to Know Region 2 Coaches

Region 2 Coaches, Jill Diamond and April Niemela, serve 19 districts in Region 2. With teachers participating from districts as far north as Bovill (Whitepine Jt. School District) and as far south as Riggins (Salmon River School District), they work with a vast variety of grade levels, content areas, and specialists. Read on for an introduction to our two Region 2 Coaches through the lens of Appreciative Inquiry Interviews.

An Appreciative Inquiry Biography of Jill Diamond

Written by Emily Morgan, Region 3 Coach

Jill finds strength in challenges.  Adventure calls her in the form of cycling, crossfit, and Spartan races.  She gravitates toward situations with opportunities for growth, and she’s not afraid to move into the unknown and experiment until she finds success.  Physical feats of awesomeness only show one side of her strong character; she approaches her work in the same way.  Jill moved from the classroom into a role as a curriculum resource teacher with the difficult task of serving 11 different schools.  Even though this task seemed daunting, she approached the challenge with tenacity, energy, and optimism.  This was followed by her current position as an Idaho Core Coach in the Idaho Coaching Network.  Jill saw each opportunity as a way to learn from others and to grow as an educator and a coach.  

Jill encourages community.  Growing up on a farm in a small town, she is used to hard work, dedication, and a community that serves each other.  Jill brings these same values to her work with teachers.  She works for and with teachers, serving as advocate, cheerleader, confidant, and supporter.  Whether working with 5th grade students or middle school science teachers, Jill helps those she works with to feel empowered. She helps teachers see their own worth and pushes them to see their own potential.  Jill also values what she can learn from others and finds time for those conversations where learning happens.  Jill is often sought out as a trusted thinking partner, because she allows others to feel heard and to see possibilities for growth.   

Slogging through mud and over barriers in a Spartan race shows Jill’s strength and endurance.  She knows that hard work and effort pay off and when challenges arise, she can find power within herself or from the help of a teammate. When showing up for teachers, Jill is fully dedicated and present for them.  Teachers know she cares by her genuine smile, careful listening, and small gifts of chocolate or books.  

Jill shows up authentically to any situation and brings oxygen into the room with her energy and commitment.  Her bright personality easily fills the space and others are immediately drawn to her.  She is aware of the needs of others, and uses this awareness to help everyone feel comfortable and important.  She values all voices and perspectives, allowing rich stories to be told and honored.  She brings out the best in others and is often sought after for conversation and advice.  To know Jill is to feel loved, appreciated, and respected.

An Appreciative Inquiry Biography of April Niemela

Written by Nancy Chaffin, Region 6 Coach

Channeling serenity, April Niemela described her emotional state as “choosing calm” in midst of an overwhelming and exhausting schedule as we met together during a recent Coach Summit to write her bio for the Idaho Coaching Network. She arrived at the summit with her mind reeling from a recent celebration of life ceremony for a close family member, and while she stepped purposefully into her leadership role and made a concerted effort to achieve the balance and focus that are the foundation of her strength, it was clear it took effort to be in the moment. It was also evident that this is a key aspect of who she is; she lives life purposefully, relishing each moment with cherished family members as well as the deeply engaging opportunities that exist in the Idaho Coaching Network.

A Region II Idaho Literacy Coach, April was one of the initial educators who were pioneers in the network. Building a program of this magnitude was no easy task; there were a thousand details that coaches were confronted with on a daily basis, and they clung to one another as (in April’s words) they “built a jet plane as they were flying it…out of paper clips.” When asked how they managed to accomplish such an incredible task, April shared, “We found inspiration in the midst of the creative struggle by harnessing the power of collaboration and keeping our eye on the ultimate target.”  This targeted collaboration created a living organization that currently features a network of over six hundred teachers and administrators, as well as an online course that guides educators in creating units that align with the Idaho Literacy standards, utilize best practices, and move students toward independence.

Reflecting on the ultimate target of empowering teachers, Dr. Niemela shared that acknowledging the awesomeness of other people – who they are and who they have the potential to be – as well as creating opportunities where educators can shine as their best selves lies at the core of her coaching vision. “I don’t want them to align with my vision of them; instead, I want to help them be who they want to be, in a way that honors the best version of themselves.” A student of Parker Palmer (who wrote The Courage to Teach),  Kathleen Gee (who co-authored Results Coaching), Bob and Megan Tschannen-Moran (who co-authored Evocative Coaching), and a host of other coaching manuals, April has researched best coaching practices and professional development throughout her service as an Idaho Literacy Coach and in her dissertation for her Doctorate. She recognizes that coaching is about creating an environment in which people discover who they really are and who they can become.

While there are multiple ways of discovering self,  April has found that deeply listening to another person, drawing out their strengths, and reflecting them back to them is one of the best methods she can employ. Reflecting on recent coaching experiences, April shares that love plays an important role in the process: because April chooses to love teachers forward from wherever they are, she engenders trust. That trust often leads to sharing vulnerability and fostering compassion which creates an environment for positive change to occur.

As the interview drew to a close, it was obvious that April had achieved the enlightenment and serenity that is her strength. Energized, reflective, and loving, she thanked me for the gift appreciative inquiry and shared that she was enlightened by the process.

You Had me at DBI

This post was written by Angie Tweit, a Kindergarten teacher in Juliaetta. Angie was a Core Teacher during the 2014-2015 school year and is currently part of the Alumni Program. Read how she leverages the mystery of a DBI to empower her learners.

I received several emails from Jill and April with an invitation to attend an upcoming Alumni Core Teacher workshop. I glanced at them feeling the immediate tug-of-war between wanting to attend and knowing the demands in my classroom and school. As my eyes scanned through the fourth, and probably final email, three words jumped off the screen: Document Based Inquiry. The pull from April’s invitation had just given that final tug and I knew I had to go!

Why document based inquiry? I have experienced the power of this amazing activity first as a learner and then as a teacher. My first experience was the Mann Gulch DBI. This experience inspired me to craft an elementary DBI: first for my kindergarten class (it was kind of a flop…but good to go through the process) and then for a 3-6 grade history club group (this one was, if I do say so myself, AMAZING!)

tweitdbiHere is what I have found to be empowering about DBI’s:

The Hook: There is something about a sealed envelope with mysterious documents that gets the learner’s blood pumping!

The Scaffolds: Reading through an abundance of complex text can be overwhelming. Breaking the reading and writing into chunks supports the learner by making the task at hand less daunting.

The Collaboration: Everyone gets a chance to share their thinking. There is power in comparing and contrasting the evidence gleaned from the text.

The Evidence: When you have eight-year-olds referring back to the text to prove their argument, you’ve empowered them with factual evidence they can trust and use to prove their point. For many, this will be a first and strong building block for future investigation, evidence-seeking, and argument-building.

The Interpretation: This is where the “boys become men” through synthesis. Students connect the information and developing an interpretation that is backed up with text-based evidence.

The Flow: The sense of urgency and discovery provide a moment in time where the outside world just disappears and the reader is sucked into a vacuum-like state where only the text before them exists.

By creating an environment where learners can fully immerse themselves in rigorous content, we give them the opportunity to stretch their critical thinking limits, as they also become more proficient readers and writers.

Standards Implementation Meetings

This post is written by Carolyn Kluss, the ELA Department Chair/Librarian at Sacajawea Junior High in Lewiston, Idaho. Carolyn was a Core Teacher during the 2015-2016 Core Teacher Program and is currently part of the Alumni Program. Read how she empowers her fellow teachers through a strength-based approach during monthly department meetings. 

During our September Alumni meeting in Lewiston, with April Niemela and Jill Diamond, Core Alumni members each brought a core-aligned strategy or celebration to share with the larger group. After participating in this “Celebration Circle,” I recognized the power it has to affirm the great work being done and allow teachers to share ideas, strategies, successes or even the lessons that didn’t quite work the way we pictured them, in a celebratory, nonjudgmental format.  I decided to bring this strategy back to our monthly English/Language Arts department meetings.  I am the ELA department chair and serve as school librarian now, no longer actively teaching in a classroom.  We have nine people in our department, two at each grade level (7-9), two exploratory/elective teachers, and myself.  Five of our nine staff members (including myself) have taken (or are currently in) the Idaho Core Teacher Program, and my goal for this celebration circle was to spread the ideas and excitement to all ELA staff by sharing resources, gaining knowledge and core-aligned strategies, and hopefully enticing additional ELA staff to participate in the Idaho Core Network in future years.

I modeled the “guided feedback” on sentence starters used during our Alumni celebration sharing and have the following feedback options:

  • When you _________, it [supports, challenges, creates] by ____________.
  • This strategy has the power to _________ by [providing, honoring, creating] ________.
  • Your support of student learning is apparent by ____________.
  • OR Your own choice of response.

Kluss.jpgThese are posted on an easel close to the circle, and I provide sticky notes and pens for all of us to provide feedback once each person has shared.

Our “Celebration Circle” has gone over very well and we are doing this each month, so that core teachers can showcase and celebrate their core aligned strategies and all teachers can share their successful strategies and lessons with excitement and among willing listeners.  Staff members have spent time talking about vertical alignment and sharing resources during and after each meeting.  It has been very positive and productive and teachers can follow up on these discussions during our monthly grade level meetings.  This strategy has been a great addition to our monthly meetings, and we get a chance to celebrate each other’s great lessons and ideas, which brings a positive energy to our sharing.  It also gives teachers another option/idea to utilize guided feedback and have options for classroom discussions.

We have discovered that we only have time for 4 or 5 teachers to share, in our 30 minute time frame, so about half the ELA staff shares each month.  We will definitely continue to use this strategy in our meetings, possible with some additional focus (argument writing lessons), as we approach ISAT testing season!

Shoveling a Path Through the Snowdrifts for New Teachers

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, closeupThis post was written by Amy Ballard, who teaches English, Creative Writing, Speech, and Drama at Camas County High School. She is a Returning Teacher in the Idaho Core Teacher Network program in Region V. Catch her presentation entitled “Faith and the Public School Teacher” at the Federal Programs Conference in Boise in April. Amy also presents on topics in ELA at conferences and in school-level professional development settings. Contact her at amy (at) or visit her Web site, This post was cross-posted from her personal blog.

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” –II Timothy 2:2

Record snowfall, sub-zero temps, high winds. . .the perfect recipe for a snow day. My southern Idaho district has had a few of them this year–five, to be exact–and the weather forecast indicates prime conditions for another snow day tomorrow. Some of my fellow teachers are sick to death of snow. And it has been inconvenient. But then, I know a farmer who prays every year for just such an “inconvenient snow” to give moisture for the summer’s crops. This year, she sure saw her prayers answered!

Yesterday, I uncharacteristically picked up a shovel and cleared a path through some three feet of snow (deeper in places where the wind had drifted it) to the woodshed. The experience reminded me how wimpy I really am (had to take a break half-way through, and by the time the path was clear, I was so tired I didn’t know if I could survive the actual carrying-the-wood part). How much more grateful I am today for my wood fire because of the effort I went to to get it.

Now, my three kids can use the path I cleared. This morning they each brought me an armload of wood from the shed–something they would not have been able to do if I had continued to ignore the arduous chore of shoveling that path.

In teaching, sometimes, we need someone to clear a path for us, too. As a young teacher, I often found myself struggling with classroom management, organization, or maintaining student engagement. Teachers with far more experience offered a listening ear and the much-needed use of their tool-kits at the moment when I was most frustrated. God placed compassionate, skilled mentors in my life who had shoveled that path, clearing the way for me to find success in the classroom. I’m so grateful!

If you’ve been teaching for fewer than ten years, you probably don’t feel like an “expert” yet. Maybe you never will, because teaching is a constantly changing world, and wise teachers know they must continue to learn and grow throughout their careers. But even with a few school years under your belt, you have the needed perspective to help someone newer than you.

In fact, you might already have put in the grunt work to clear one of these paths for new teachers:

  • Identifying priorities in work and in life
  • Aligning lessons to standards
  • Lesson planning
  • Creating effective plans for subs
  • Communicating with parents
  • Meeting the needs of diverse learners
  • Implementing character education or other program
  • Getting the most out of professional development
  • Planning for efficient use of prep time
  • Using formative assessments effectively
  • Reflecting on successes and growth areas
You’ve been down that path. You had a tough time, and it was work. Real work. Now it’s time to take on the role of a mentor and help someone else get through the same snowdrift.
What “snowdrifts” could you help another teacher through? What drifts do you need help shoveling? Share in the comments, then go get that shovel!

Lakeland Core: Driving Change through Three Vehicles

Lakeland Core Teachers Amy Sheppard, Chantelle Kirk, and Kelly Chaney give feedback on Essential Questions during a gallery walk on a Lakeland Core Workshop Day.

By Katie Graupman, Region 1 Idaho Core Coach

Have you ever wondered what would happen if teachers from the same district were given job-embedded time to explore student-centered learning, collaborate, and create units for their students?   The Lakeland Joint School District is finding out.  And the drivers of this change?  A group of nine teacher leaders who have all participated in at least one year of the Idaho Core Teacher Program.

Three Vehicles

The group, which calls itself the Lakeland Core, came together in the 2015-2016 school year with a proposal for the Lakeland School District.  They began by offering the district three plans, which they called the Bicycle Plan, the Car Plan, and the Plane Plan.  The Bicycle Plan, which the District adopted the first year, involved each teacher leader delivering four professional development sessions, spread throughout the year, on late-start Mondays.  Covering topics from Growth Mindset to Document-Based Inquiry, teachers differentiated for grade level teams while engaging the entire district in workshops on the same topic.  

Lakeland Assistant Superintendent Lisa Sexton explains, “When Idaho adopted the Core Standards, it was evident that very large shifts in instructional practice had to occur for our students to excel in this environment of increased rigor.  Early on, a group of forward thinking Lakeland teachers applied to participate in the Idaho Core Coaching Network.  These teachers brought professional development back to their buildings.  We saw the spark of a grassroots movement in our district as a result.  In the ensuing years, this dedicated group of teachers pooled their talents and considerable areas of expertise and created a strong framework for professional growth for teachers in our district.”

Megan Ferguson, a teacher leader with the group, said last year was “crucial” for the Lakeland Core.  It developed a common vocabulary among all the teachers in the district, and, as teacher leader Connie Wilkerson points out, it “planted the seeds” for what was to come.

What was to come was an upgrade to the Car Plan.  As a vehicle for learning, the Car Plan offers 15 teachers in the district, representing every grade level, eight days of job-embedded learning (two in summer 2016, five over the school year, and one in June 2017) to collaboratively create, teach, and refine units for the district.  

“We learned we needed to go deeper,” said Teacher Leader Cherokee Gorton.  “We needed to get to application.”  

The Plane Plan, which has not been adopted, involved creating instructional coaching positions at the secondary level.  

Incredible Impact

As a result of the Car Plan, teachers, administrators, and students are experiencing the difference.

“More teachers have gotten involved,” said Teacher Leader Julie Anderson.  “Teachers are excited to start, learn, and develop units.”  

It’s also creating collaboration across the curriculum.  “As a content [science] teacher, I have found that it’s not just about teaching the content, it’s about teaching skills.  And because of that, I can collaborate with a social studies teacher about students learning the same skills,” Gorton said.

Trisha Miles, a Garwood Elementary special education teacher participating in the Lakeland Core said the Core offers her “collegiality and work time we just don’t get in the classroom,” explaining that she appreciates spending time “perfecting our craft…Even though it’s hard work, it’s an enriching environment to be in,” she said.

Administrators have seen results.  Kathy Thomas, Athol Elementary Principal, calls the professional development modeled by the Idaho Core and the Lakeland Core, “the strongest professional development I’ve seen us participate in.  It becomes so embedded, and it’s different from the traditional workshop, which creates great intentions with little follow through.”  Instead, Thomas points to the “support, structure, and instructionally sound” practices promoted in the Core as making the difference.

Sexton adds, “Our incredible teacher leaders are replicating the learning they did as part of the Idaho Core Coaching Network.  The professional development they are offering is highly engaging, relevant, and most importantly strongly impacting student achievement in our district.”

As Sexton points out, the end result is a better learning experience for students.  “Students are finding it valuable, taking it home and talking to parents about what we’re doing in class,” said Teacher Leader Julie Anderson.  

“Students interact with the content.  It’s no longer sit and get,” said Teacher Leader Laura Spurway.  

Three Key Components

The teacher leaders of the Lakeland Core are quick to point to key components that make their group viable.

  • Democratic Values: While Ferguson, a high school teacher; Spurway, a gifted and talented teacher; and Anderson, an elementary teacher, are the three official leaders of the Lakeland Core, decisions are arrived at democratically among all nine teacher leaders.  All nine teacher leaders meet once per quarter to plan, demonstrate, and refine their own teaching practices with one another in preparation for working with the Lakeland Core teachers.  This gives each teacher leader voice in the process. 
  • District Buy-In:  Although the teacher leaders proposed and run the Lakeland Core, they quickly point out this would not be possible without District support.  The District has allocated time, money, and resources for this endeavor. “We view this as the District giving back to teachers,” Spurway said.  

From the District perspective, Sexton says, the Lakeland Core has led to authentic, lasting change.  “Change that is directed and mandated from the top down does not occur system-wide, especially second order change.  But when change is facilitated from the ground up, teachers buy-in and are empowered to be the best they can be for their students.  The impact of the Idaho Core Coaching Network is far-reaching in our district because teachers took the lead in effecting change.  Our professional development model is one of the great things happening in Lakeland of which I am most proud.  I fully support these fine teachers and have learned that the best way to help them is to stand back and let them do what they do so well, teach!”

  • Risk Taking:  The teacher leaders in the Lakeland Core explain they never would have reached this point had they not been willing to take risks. Proposing such a bold plan to district administration in the first place required faith in the skills and content they had learned in the Idaho Core Program.  The program also gave the teacher leaders a community  of like-minded teachers, which made it safe to take risks with one another, experiment, and grow.  During their quarterly planning time, for example, teacher leaders workshop their workshops, give feedback to one another, and refine their practices.  

I once heard at a Teach to Lead Summit, “Every problem in education can get solved if you just get a teacher involved!”  Imagine the possibilities when you get a group of twenty-four teachers involved, all with a common purpose, commitment and understanding.  

In Lakeland, they’re finding out.

What is Your Hope?

Post written by Janell Teichmer, a 7th grade teacher at Sacajawea Junior High in Lewiston. Janell was a Core Teacher during the 2014-2015 school year, a Returning Teacher during the 2015-2016 school year, and is currently part of the Alumni Program. Read how she builds a strong risk-taking community even as she engages her students in deep thinking around the topic of hope and making a difference.

I am the type of teacher who begins having nightmares at the end of July that my classroom will not be ready for the first day of school at the end of August.  I start waking up in the middle of the night and planning what my new back-to-school bulletin board will look like or how I want to arrange my desks.  I think this is my body’s way of saying, “You’ve had enough mental rest, now get to work!”

So in those hot days of this past summer, I began to think about my hopes for the new school year.  I hoped my students would feel safe, supported, and excited to embark on this new year with me.  One of the biggest struggles I have in junior high is creating a classroom community; I only have each class for 47 minutes a day, so it’s imperative that I start the year off with building that positive community as my main focus.  

The first day of school in a new junior high is so stressful for students.  They are worried about what we adults perceive as little things, but are huge worries for them; who will they sit with at lunch?  What if they get lost in the hall?  What if they forget where their locker is?  In addition to the stress, they are on an emotional rollercoaster.  They are so excited to be a junior high student, yet as the day progresses, their excitement slowly ebbs.  They’re tired.  They’ve heard about rules in every class.  They’ve gone over procedures that they won’t remember tomorrow.  They’ll  been assigned seats that they’ll forget.  They’re over it already!  So as I started my mid-summer freak out about what I’ll be teaching the first week of school, I knew I wanted it to be different than what I had done before.  I knew I wanted to jump right in with building community and getting to know my students as writers, readers, and overall humans!!  

As the end of August was creeping in, my beginning of the year plan was still blank.  Although I’d spent many fruitless hours searching Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers, I truly could not find what I was looking for…until I stumbled upon a text in a teacher training.  Typically I’m not a very emotional person, especially in teacher trainings, but for some reason this text just resonated with me.  It was a short, powerful story about how one person can change the world. “The moral:  You can change the world – maybe not all at once, but one person, one animal, and one good deed at a time.  Wake up every morning and pretend like what you do makes a difference.  It does.”

All the Difference in the World text

I literally got goosebumps reading this text.  I knew it was something I could use right off the bat in my classroom.  It’s such a powerful, motivating message.  That night, after a full two days of teacher meetings, I whipped out a beginning of the year lesson that I was SO EXCITED about!  I finally had something that I knew would help me get to know my students’ fears, dreams, hopes, and help me get started with building connections with them right away.

As my new students entered the room the very first day, I was nervous.  What if it was chaos because I wasn’t assigning seats or going over rules and procedures?  Instead, they chose a seat, received a notecatcher, and began writing down their notices and wonderings from an envelope of pictures.  These pictures consisted of memes with motivating quotes about making a difference, and a photo of the beautiful moment from the 2016 summer Olympics (another moment that gave me goosebumps!).   


Read Full Story Here


From Notecatcher

After sharing their wonderings in table groups, we watched a short video called “What is Your Hope”.  I had noticed this video circulating on social media, and as soon as I found the All The Difference in the World article, I knew this would be a good match.

What is Your Hope video

Honestly, students seemed less impressed with this video than I was, but I needed it to transition into the next activity.  We modeled what the teachers and students did in this video and charted our hopes on posters around the room.  This is where things got interesting.  I learned so much from this short activity.

 hope-1  hope-2

Mostly, they have huge, compassionate hearts!  They noticed that most of their peers had the same fears, hopes, and wishes for the future.  This helped ease their first day jitters, and also opened up conversations about how to help others achieve their hopes and overcome their fears about the first days of school.  But most importantly, they have already learned how to respectfully argue…

 trump “I hope that Trump is a good president.”


“I hope we don’t get Trump.”



We then transitioned into reading the All the Difference in the World text.  My intention was for students to realize that small acts can have a huge impact on others.  I ended the lesson by watching a short video, A Smile Can Change a First Impression (PERFECT for the first days of school!).  With these four tasks in place, students had enough information to begin brainstorming a list of ideas of how they can make a difference in the world.


Finally, we were ready for our final writing task.  Students were asked to answer the essential question: How can I make a difference in the world?  As students began their final task, I roamed around the room making informal observations and anecdotal notes.  I could tell who embraced writing with a passion and the ones who came to my room with a fixed mindset about their skills…all of this within the first few days of school.  I knew their hopes, their worries, their writing skills (as well as parents’ political views!) But most importantly, I started fostering a collaborative and caring classroom community from the first days of school.  In the process, they all figured out that our classroom rules are to be respectful, be engaged, and be hopeful...and they didn’t have to sit and listen to me lecture it to them on day one!

I hope I remember to do this next year…