Monday, November 15, 2021

Where I Am From

 Principal ponderings...

We did a lot of talking about identity and who we are at our last staff meeting.  Some of you have already done some form of the writing activity about "I'm From" poems with your students.  Some of you will be doing them at a later date.  I love the thought that came out of my recent book club discussion...when we honor identity we continue to develop connections.  We need to honor our own identities, each other's identities, and our students' identities.

 If you haven't worked on your own "I'm From" poem yet, I recommend you start with your own identity first.  Here's one of my attempts at writing about who I am...

Where I Am From

I'm from a 100-year-old yellow farmhouse with a bright red barn,

a chicken coop with no chickens,

and a garden of tomatoes, potatoes, and popcorn.

I'm from dinners with mom's homemade spaghetti sauce and 

lots of laughter around the crowded table,

from directing and acting out our own sibling plays

under the big oak tree or on the garage stage.

I'm from playing connect the dots on the back of church pamphlets

to connecting the dots of life and youth and days and years moving too fast.

I'm from a conjugating verbs mom and 

a calculating every penny dad,

from a swearing like a truck driver grandma and 

a mango tree growing grandma.

I'm from big family love.

I'm from the Ohio River to the Atlantic Ocean,

from chlorine soaked into my pores to wet towels always on the bathroom floor,

from more hours in a pool than on dry land,

from staring at the black line on the bottom to tuning out the world out of the water,

to Power Bars and bananas and 4am practices and swim meet weekends,

to shoulder surgery, tears, recovery, and finding my way back

to the water again.

I'm from a lifetime of yesterdays that today I will hold onto tightly

so that I can pull them out of memory's pocket tomorrow 

and tomorrow.

--Liz Garden

 Now the question is...where are you from?

Currently reading:

I finished listening to Can We Talk About Race and started listening to The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth.  I joined a new group of principals from across the country who are in a Mastermind group on Monday nights.  Looking forward to discussing this book with that group. 

I also started reading the sequel to Pax, a book called Pax Journey Home.  I enjoyed the first book, and I am sure I will also enjoy the story in this one.  

Events this week:

Monday - Snack Drive Collection all week

Tuesday - Student Council Meeting @ 8:00am, CST Meeting @ 8 and 8:30, STEM Club and Chess Club after school

Wednesday - School Council Meeting @ 3:45

Thursday - Liz G in Curriculum Meeting from 8-10

Friday - Mayo Spirit Day!

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Kindergarteners in Mrs. McSweeney's room working on soundboards
  • 4th graders in 4B using the floor tiles for an area and perimeter lesson 

Check it out:

Here's a great opinion piece that I fully support, talking about how principals should be required to teach in some capacity.  I agree!  Who wants me to teach in their classroom or co-teach?? 

Another important read for me about teacher care.

Monday, November 8, 2021

It's Worth It

 Principal ponderings...

This weekend I pulled out one of my It's Worth It boxes.  Many of you have one of these from a few years ago.  The poem posted above is on the inside of the lid.  And in the box I store cards, notes, post its...all sorts of words of inspiration, appreciation, gratitude.  Normally I simply pull the box down, add some cards and notes to the box and then put it away.  

This weekend I took the time to pull out the notes and cards and post it notes.  I sat and read what students, parents, staff, colleagues have shared with me over the years.  I needed a boost. I needed something to lift me up, help me take a breath, take a minute, and get back to the work I need to do.  

If you have your box in your classroom, I recommend that you take it out and give yourself some time to read what's in it.  On those days when you are thinking 'I am through,' and there are many of those days I know...let the notes and cards help you push through.  And if you don't have a box, take some time to start one.  I have been a school leader for 14 years now.  I have several boxes.  I am so glad that I have saved all those words of gratitude and appreciation.  Filled with paper, the boxes are so light, but actually those boxes are full of strength.  

We all need to be carried sometimes.  We all need reminders that it's worth it.  We all need to remember what we have already accomplished and what we are working towards.  Let this simple box, a few words on a paper, a picture drawn by a child, let all these things lift you up and remind you of your why.

During this month where we tend to focus on gratitude, be grateful that students and parents and colleagues have recognized your hard work and have appreciated you.  Be grateful that you have a job where you make a difference in kids' and families' lives everyday.  

Speaking of gratitude...a friend shared this challenge with me and I thought it was something I wanted to share with all of you.  I know we are already into the month, but here's a word prompt for each day.  And you can read more about it here:  I personally love that the first prompt is 'words.'  Clearly, those of you that know me know that words of affirmation is my love language.  It's why I love the concept of an 'It's Worth It' Box!  

Take some time to read words of affirmation from in your box or maybe from somewhere else.  Or take some time to write some words of affirmation for yourself or for someone else.  I promise you it will be worth it.  

Currently reading:

I enjoyed reading Green Lantern Legacy this weekend.  Can't wait to recommend it to one of our readers. 

I am looking forward to a book group discussion this week about Can We Talk About Race?  The chapter I listened to this weekend was especially interesting...all about connecting the dots starting with how psychologists began measuring IQ. 

Events this week:

Monday - Liz out, Vision and Hearing Screening in the office, 

Tuesday - Vision and Hearing Screening in the office, Chess Club after school in the library, STEM Club after school in the art room

Wednesday - Staff Meeting @ 8:00am in the library, 1st grade parent conferences, Vision and Hearing Screening in the office, Report Cards available in PowerSchool

Thursday - Veterans Day, No School

** Monday, Nov. 15 - Last Day of Feed Your Read Campaign

Great things I noticed last week:

  • It was a beautiful day for our Literacy Parade!  Thank you for all of your support.   I think everyone, adults and kids, had a great experience. 

  • Math partner games in 3rd grade! 

  • Kindergarten friends creating and building! 

Check it out:

Thought this might be helpful with the recent time change ;)

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Embracing Each Other's Stories

 Principal ponderings...

We all have a story.  Some of our stories have happy endings, some don't have an ending yet.  Some of us have similar stories and some have stories unlike anyone else.  Every week I listen to student or staff stories.  Sometimes it's just a text message that tells me a story or gives me a peek into a story.  Sometimes it's a conversation in the hallway that tells me a funny story.  And sometimes it's a closed door conversation that tells me a story of struggle or sadness.  

After hearing one of these stories this week, one that is a difficult and sad story, I had to try to explain to other students about this concept of everyone having different stories.  At the same time, I was thinking about our Choose To Be Nice core value for the month of November, Acceptance.  I feel like this is such an important core value to be talking about with our students, but also a difficult topic to talk about, especially in our society today.  There's so much divisiveness, so much of one group not accepting another group, or one person looking at someone who is different from him with a look of judgment or contempt.  Especially when someone else's story is so different from your own.

When I tried to wrap my head around how to explain and reassure students about a situation, I kept coming back to the idea of us all having different stories.  Using that language, I think the students understood what I was trying to tell them without sharing too much or divulging confidential information.  They could understand that they each had different life stories.

I wish society could take that same approach.  Of course, I think I have the benefit of being able to have these tough conversations with kids.  Adults have a harder time stepping back and seeing the whole picture.  Most adults don't get to have kids-eye-views on a daily basis.  Kids seem to just get it.  Kids are accepting.  I actually had the thought that the topic of acceptance would be a tough one this month, but that's because sadly, I am an adult.  But my conversation this week renewed my faith in the concept of acceptance.  

When you look up synonyms of acceptance, one word that pops up keeps sticking in my head.  It's the word embrace.  And when I hear the word embrace, I can't help but think of a hug.  (And then of course an image of Olaf saying "I like warm hugs" automatically appears in my head!) When we think about acceptance, maybe we can think about hugging.  I don't necessarily mean the actual physical act of hugging, although that is the ultimate form of acceptance in my book.  I mean that as we think and talk about acceptance, I feel like we are thinking and talking about the concept of wrapping our arms around each other.  Accepting each other for all of our differences and similarities.  Wrapping our arms around each other's stories.  Not judging the plot line or the characters or the different elements of our stories.  But embracing them.

Looking forward to hearing how you will talk with students about acceptance, about embracing each other's stories.

There are a few books listed in the Choose To Be Nice book list, but there are so many more great books about acceptance.  Here are a few that I own.  Let me know if you want to borrow any this month.

Currently reading:

I finished Finding Junie Kim and loved it.  The Korean War is not a part of history that I knew much about.  I highly recommend this book if you are interested in that part of history.  I also loved that it was based off of true events in the author's family history.  I had abandoned a book on Audible that I just went back to this week...Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World.  

I am also excited to finally dive into I Love You, Micheal Collins.  Especially on a rainy Saturday! 
After I finish the other Audible book, I am going to be listening to the book Can We Talk about Race?  I am participating in a book group through DESE with this book. 

Events this week:

Monday - Literacy Parade @ 2:00!

Tuesday - Virtual PD Day, No School for students

Wednesday - CST Meeting @ 8:00, CST Meeting @ 8:30, 2nd grade teachers hosting virtual parent conferences, Half day, dismissal at 12:30, K-2 parent conferences, 3-5 PD at Mayo, Liz at CPI training in the afternoon

Thursday - End of Q1 (report cards go live in PS Nov. 10), Liz in Admin Meeting from 8-10, Liz meeting with Amy Norton from 10:30-11:30, K teachers hosting virtual parent conferences

Friday - ELA Community of Practice application due

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Check out Mrs. Olson's affirmation station, a place where kids can practice positive self talk in the mirror. 

  • Love seeing 1st graders and 4th graders working together.  And how about the buddies that didn't realize they had dressed the same!

  • I caught some 5th graders doing some hands on learning about circuits and chain reactions. 

  • Spirit Week was so much fun!  Thank you for participating and helping to put smiles on kids' faces. 

Check it out:

In honor of our survivors, Shoshana and Laura, and all of the rest of us that are surviving this year...I thought this song was fitting.

And food for thought...

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Post I Didn't Write

 Principal ponderings...

I thought about writing a post this week and then I read Jennifer Gonzalez's latest post on her Cult of Pedagogy blog.  Instead of taking the time to read something I wrote, I hope you will take the time to read her post.  She also records her posts as podcasts so you can either read it or you can simply listen to it.

It is so true.

Currently reading:

I can't put down Finding Junie Kim.  I love hearing the grandfather tell the stories of growing up during The Korean War.  

I am excited to finish the book above so I can start on one of the books I purchased at the book fair.  Looking forward to starting I Love You, Michael Collins, a story that takes place in 1969.

Events this week:

Monday - Crazy Sock Day!

Tuesday - Disney Day!

Wednesday - Wear Your Words Day! CST Meeting @ 8:00, SEPAC Meeting @ 6:30 at Davis Hill

Thursday - Mayo Spirit Day!

Friday - Literacy Parade @ 2:00!

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Caught 2nd graders in Mrs. Tibbetts working on money and counting coins. 

  • Our first Student Council meeting with 5th graders was a huge success.  Can't wait to see what this group does for the school this year! 

  • Mrs. Kalinowski's 1st graders were writing their own sequels to the Elmer and the Dragon series. 

  • Mrs. Baird's 5th graders found the perfect spot for their book club discussion.

Check it out:

Monday, October 18, 2021

Yes Day - The Education Version!

 Principal ponderings...

My daughter woke up Sunday morning and declared that it should be Yes Day!  I countered with...well why don't you write a list of what you would want to do on a Yes Day and then we could think about some of those choices.  She was very excited to crack open her new journal from the book fair...complete with a fur cover and totally unnecessary lock and key.  The picture above is her list.  I will decipher it for you:



Ride bikes

Go swimming

Bake some food

Play games

Go to somewhere you never "goed" before

And apparently later in the day she added more!  So when she asked about a yes day, it got me thinking about what if we had a yes day in education.  What would it look like for students?  What would it look like for teachers?  What would it look like for parents?

Student yes day requests...

Can we have a full day of play day instead of a half day?  

Can we have a day where we don't use any worksheets or paper?

Can we have a day where we get to learn about whatever we want to learn about?

Can we have a day where we get to read all day?

Can we have a day where we do science experiments all day?

Can we trade classes or teachers for a day?

The list could go on and on, but imagine if we decided to say yes to all of those questions or even to at least one of those questions?  What would school look like and feel like for our students on a yes day with any of those above questions?  What are some other yes day questions that you think students would ask for?

Teacher yes day requests...

Can we have time everyday with our teams to plan?

Can we teach kids about a hobby or an activity that we are passionate about?

Can we go off script from our curriculum guides and do what we know our kids need?

Can we build a schedule that works for our students and not be forced to fit things in?

Can we have our own brain breaks and movement breaks?

Can we spend a day observing our peers and learning from each other?

Can we buy all of the materials that we want and that our kids need?

Again, the list could go on and on, but imagine if we could say yes to any of these questions?  What would your day look and feel like on a yes day with any of these questions?  What are some other yes day questions that you would put on the list?

Parent yes day requests...

Can I see what my kid looks like in class?

Can we have parent conferences throughout the year instead of just for 10 minutes maybe once a year?

Will you love and care for my kid like he or she is your own?

Will you make sure my child has friends at school?

Can you help me have conversations with my child about what they are learning and what they want to learn about?

Can you make sure my child is happy?

As a parent, there are lots of questions that I could add to this list, but imagine if we could guarantee a yes answer to any of these questions for all of our students and their parents?  What are some other yes day questions that you think our parents would add to the list?

I will let you know that while we didn't entirely agree to a full yes day, Emerson was able to check many things off her list yesterday.  While I was at the book fair, my husband took the kids on a bike ride to not one, but two different playgrounds.  And when they came home, they played wall ball.  Three things checked off her list.  Then we surprised the kids and picked up my niece who is a freshman at Providence College.  We went to a restaurant.  Another check off the list.  And we all went to the Roger Williams Zoo to see the Jack O'Lantern walk through event.  So we managed to check off zoo and "somewhere we never 'goed' before."  I guess we will save baking some food for another night this week.

Emerson was so excited to come up with her list and then be able to check things off.  And I know she is going to be writing about and talking about her "mostly yes day" in school today.  I think it's worth us thinking about how to create "yes days" in the education world.  We have had too many "no days", both during the pandemic and before the pandemic.

Time to make a new list.

What's going on your "yes day" list?

Currently reading:

I finished listening to The Midnight good!  I also finished reading Willowdeen, another great book by the author of The One and Only Ivan.  I saw several students purchase it at the book fair.  I started reading Finding Junie Kim.  This book starts right off with some difficult topics...a school starts their school year off dealing with racial slurs being spray painted on the walls of the school gym.  The book is told from the perspective of an Asian American student who is entering middle school; she learns of her grandfather's story and strength when he was experiencing the Korean War.  Can't wait to read more of this book!

I also read a new picture book called Maryam's Magic: The Story of Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani. It's the true story of a girl who grew up in Iran and loved stories and art, and her love of creativity helped her see math in a whole new way. 

Events this week:

Monday -New building sub starting - Welcome Gabby Daniels!, Liz in MSAA Board Meeting (virtual) from 11:30-2:00

Tuesday - 5th Grade Student Council Meeting @ 8:00am in Mrs. Olson's classroom, Chess Club @ 3:30 in the library

Wednesday - Staff meeting @ 8:00 in the library

Thursday - Liz in virtual Curriculum Admin Meeting from 8:00-10:00, Rock Your School Day - Get Your Teach On Movement - how can we think outside of the box and engage our kids in different ways?

Don't forget ... Literacy Parade in one week, Friday, Oct. 29 at 2:00 and Spirit Week next week!

Great things I noticed last week:

  • We had a surprise visitor at arrival...Trax from the Worcester Railers!  Saturday is opening night and Wachusett students get free tickets with adult ticket purchases. 

  • Caught these two boys doing some great buddy reading in 3rd grade. 

  • Thank you Andy, Jenna, Kate, Peg, Kristin B and many parents for coming Saturday morning and helping us clean up the garden area!  There might have been a principal on a tractor. :) 

Check it out:

I saw this great idea on Twitter.  A quick, easy check in to see what kids learned or understood from a lesson.  Each student puts a sticky note on their number.