Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Reflect Back To the Future

 Principal ponderings...

New year, new beginnings, new inspiration.  Yeah, so far 2022 is not feeling shiny and new, not feeling like it's an exciting start to the year.  So maybe it's a good time to reflect on the past year in order to help get us in a better mindset for the future.  I don't know about you but I dream about the days when I can see kids' smiling faces without masks.  I get lost in thought, imagining what it would be like to be a principal again, not a "COVID Coordinator" or "Urgent Care Facility Manager."  Oh to just be able to walk into classrooms, cozy up next to some kids and watch them soak up math concepts or engage in animated discussions about books.  I so wish I could ask people what was the best part of a lesson instead of are you vaccinated?  Or countdown the days until a writing celebration for parents instead of counting how many days left on someone's quarantine.  

I came across a podcast that had some great reflection questions.  I am hoping that taking the time to think about these questions, maybe write down the answers to some, or have a conversation with a peer about them...maybe that will help us keep moving forward this year.  Maybe it will help us get back to the future.  Because I am not one to wish away time, but I really could use a 1981 DeLorean right about now.  I would be adjusting the time machine dials to maybe April 3, 2022.  (I am no fool...definitely not sending myself to April Fool's Day!).

Here are the reflection questions...

What made you feel most happy this year?

What made you unhappy this year?

What was the biggest lesson you learned this past year?

What do you wish you would have done more of this year?

What's something you want to do less of next year?

What was your biggest success this year?

When was a moment you failed this year?

What is something you want to learn next year?

What is your favorite way to refuel?

(Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/9-powerful-reflection-questions-for-2021/id1450994021?i=1000546010728)

Maybe if we focus on questions like what made us the most happy and what is our favorite way to refuel...maybe, just maybe, we will be able to reflect ourselves back to the future.

Currently reading:

I continue to force myself to set aside dedicated time to read.  This weekend I sat and finished a new book written in verse called Red, White and Whole.  This book is about Reha who is struggling between two worlds, the world of her Indian family and the world of her American school life.  At the same time she is dealing with her mom battling leukemia.  Not sure why I keep doing this to myself, but I definitely had a good cry at the end of this book. 

I also had a recommendation for this book called Sticky Notes.  The main character is a boy dealing with his father's gradual memory loss.  Books can be healing and cathartic...clearly the ones I am reading are serving that purpose for me. 

Events this week:

Monday - Welcome back, hope you enjoyed the snow day!

Tuesday - CST follow up meetings @ 8:00 and 8:30, Motoko, Japanese Storyteller launching Writer in Residence program in 5th grade, Virtual PTA Meeting at 6:30pm

Wednesday - Virtual Staff Meeting @ 8:00, 5th grade BAS training all day

Thursday - SIMCO Meeting @ 3:45

Friday - Paws Pantry Spirit Day!

Great things I noticed last week:

What I noticed most was that even with all of the COVID struggles, absences, issues...people that could showed up for kids.  Thank you.

  • When Mr. Leith had to be out, Mr. O stepped up and kept the learning going in 2nd grade. 

  • Even though there were many students absent, teachers like Mrs. Leroy jumped back into math instruction. 

  • And speaking of math, I caught Mrs. Mackoul working on solving math problems with some 5th graders in green pod. 

  • When you are 4th graders still surviving and learning during a pandemic, then you write realistic fiction stories about "Surviving Quarantine" modeled after the "I Survived" series. 

Check it out:

A friend posted this over the weekend and I loved it, wanted to share...

Also, my edu-hero Pernille Ripp, an awesome teacher in another state posted this so important message...

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

My One Little Word - 2022

 Principal ponderings...

Hard to believe I have lived in my new house for a year now.  Especially since I still have a room that has not really been set up/unpacked.  That room is my office/library space.  As much as I have wanted that space this year, I just haven't taken the time to get it set up.  During the break, I made myself go into the room and start slowly unpacking boxes.  It has also become the catch-all space.  Not sure where to put this?  Throw it in the library.  I started slowly and worked my way around half the room.  I have one wall where a bookshelf is filled and set up.  I have a closet that is organized now.  I have my writing desk that is cleared off and placed in front of the window with a view of my neighbor's turkeys and chickens roaming in their yard.  I have my purple upholstered rocking armchair and ottoman cleared off.  I still have several boxes and two more bookshelves to organize, but it's a step in the right direction.  I was so excited to be able to sit in my chair and read or sit at my desk and write.  

Why am I telling you all of this?  Well it's how I came up with my one little word for 2022.  As I was cleaning off and organizing my writing desk, I discovered a small dish buried under boxes and other things.  In the dish was a pile of stickers.  Emerson came in to see what I was doing and since she is all about reading everything she comes across, she started reading all of my stickers.  Here are some of the stickers she discovered...


Her favorite one was the "Write Now" sticker.  She liked the play on words about writing and "right now."  Over the break, I also participated in a virtual open mic night through the TeachWrite group that I am a part of.  I read a free verse poem about conversations with my mom.  There were lots of tears from the virtual audience members and myself.

So as I was thinking about my one little word...I realized that once again instead of me finding a word, my word found me.  Since my mom was a Latin teacher, I have selected a Latin word for my one little word.
Scribo is the Latin word for "I write."  When I was going through a rough patch a few weeks back, I wrote in an earlier post that... I can't not write.  This year, I know that I need writing to keep me sane, to keep me whole, to keep me...me.  We are all still dealing with this pandemic, and I know that writing will help me deal.  

I chose the Latin form of this word to honor my mom.  I also need to write for her this year.  My mom was a brilliant lady, a constant teacher, and a lover of language.  Now my mom has lost the ability to read or write, and she is quickly losing all of her language.  She is only 70.  Alzheimer's has attacked my mom's brain and is slowly...actually now it's feeling like rapidly...stealing her from me.  So I will write for her and for me.  I will write to help us both hang on.  I hope to write down our memories to keep them tangible and visible.  Since we can no longer have conversations, I will write down all the things I still need to say to her, the advice I still need to ask her, the stories I still need to tell her.  I will write down my feelings in the hopes of relieving the immense pressure pushing me down and suffocating me.  I will write so that I can breathe.

My One Little Word is Scribo.

What will yours be?
What will your students' words be?

I would love to fill the big display case (yes, the one I slept in!) with all of our words!

Currently reading:

I definitely carved out time to read during the break.  I have several books that were sent to the school and I have been working my way through the ones that I had never read.  I will explain more about these books and how they can help us with SEL in another post.  One of the books I read was a graphic novel called The Crossover.  This is a novel written in verse by the amazing Kwame Alexander and recently he published it in graphic novel format.  It's a story about basketball and family and twin brothers. 

The next book that I read almost in one day is called The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.  This is the true story of a boy living in Africa, in a village in Malawi, who against all odds uses science to create "electric wind."  He teaches himself, survives a famine, and is able to provide electricity and opportunity to his family and his community. 

I am finishing out my break reading by starting a new verse book that I bought a while ago but never started.  It's called Red, White and Whole and it's about an Indian American girl struggling between being the only Indian American student and dealing with her family and community. 

Events this week:

Monday - Welcome back!  2 hour delay - see lunch schedule in email from Liz, test kits and KN-95 masks available in the office

Tuesday - CST meeting @ 8:00am

Thursday - Admin Superintendent Focus Group from 8:30-9:30

Friday - Motoko, Japanese Storyteller back to work with 5th grade!

Check it out:

I have a good friend who is a principal in Michigan.  I love that she started making a New Year's playlist instead of resolutions: https://allysonapsey.com/2021/12/29/what-vibe-are-you-going-for-in-2022make-a-new-years-playlist-rather-than-a-resolution/

Here's one that I would put on my list to go with my One Little Word:

Sunday, December 19, 2021

'Twas the Week Before Vacation...

 Principal ponderings...

Twas the week before vacation 

and all through building

The staff was exhausted

and everyone was dragging.

We have four days.  Four days to make it to break.  We have a few things planned to help you get through this week...

On Monday, we will be "rolling" into the break and "wrapping" up 2021.  Come to the office and grab a roll of wrapping paper!  There will also be coffee and bagels available to fuel you on the Monday before break.

The children were wrestling

and falling out of their chairs,

While the staff tried hard

Not to pull out their hair.

On Tuesday, it's time for some "elfing" fun around this place.  You will find a surprise in your mailbox that you can't open until you are in your classroom.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find the elf that matches your elf, the perfect partner in crime.  Hint: If you see Liz G, then you need to find Laura R.  No technology allowed!  The first 3 partners that find each other need to come to the office to collect their prize!

When what to my wondering eyes should appear?

Children crawling on up the walls I fear.

On Wednesday, we will be closer to break but yet still far away.  We need chocolate stat!  Thanks to Laura and Lindsay, there will be a hot chocolate bar with all the fixings set up in the office.  Come fill your cup and scoop in extra marshmallows...you deserve it!

And I heard the staff exclaim

As the buses shifted their gears,

"We barely made it through another exhausting year!"

On Thursday, breakfast will be served in the library.  Come hungry, the PTA will be providing quite a spread.  And since it's pajama day, you won't even have to think about what to wear.  The parents have been helping me with a little surprise.  Can't wait to unveil a special "giving tree" for the staff!

This week we have a few little things to show our appreciation for all you do.  If only we could give you so much more.  Showing you appreciation doesn't make this year any easier.  It won't take away your problems.  It won't give you more energy.  It won't stop people from directing their anger at educators.  But it might just remind you that there is still a reason to smile.  We can still find joy amongst the struggle.  We can be exhausted and still laugh.

Four days.  You got this.  

Currently reading:

I was excited to get some awesome new picture books last week.  The first one is a beautiful book called Trees.  It's full of simple, poetic text, but, more importantly, the illustrations are amazing. 

I also got the newest book by Andrea Beaty called Aaron Slater, Illustrator.  Can't wait to read this one to classes! 

Events this week:

Monday - Festive Wear Day! CST Meeting @ 8:00am

Tuesday - Teamwork Day!

Wednesday - Color War Day! CST Meeting @ 8:00am

Thursday - Pajama Day!  Book Swap in the gym during specials

Some images I wanted to share:

Thank you for working with the little humans and helping make this world a better place...

Monday, December 13, 2021


 Principal ponderings...

It didn't take long for me to say yes when Marie Kuniholm came to me several weeks ago and asked, "Do you think we could plan a special surprise for one of my students?"  How could I say no to being part of the best surprise ever?!  Fast forward to Friday afternoon and I would say that thanks to a team effort, we pulled off something amazing.  

It's been two days, but I am still smiling and tearing up when I think about the moment when Maverick ran into his dad's arms.  And the fact that he said he couldn't wait to snuggle in bed with his dad...well that is just about the sweetest thing ever.  

During our assembly, I reminded everyone that "Together Everyone Achieves More...T.E.A.M."  I saw how true that statement was on Friday.  Marie got the ball rolling with brainstorming with me about how we could make an assembly work.  She started coordinating with the family.  When Marie had to be out, Shelley Brennan stepped in to continue coordinating with the family. Liz Bercume had her class, 1K's buddies, make posters.  Merle Olson had the 5th grade student council members make posters as well.  Lindsay Dupuis created and laminated the letters to spell "teamwork."  Karen Haynes, our PTA President, reached out to a friend who works in PR.  She created a press release and sent it out to all of her press connections.  Laura Ramos hid mom and dad in her office and then helped them with their cue of when to enter the gym.  And of course all of the kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade students and staff helped us create the assembly.  

It took teamwork and all of those people doing their part.  Teamwork is defined as the combined action of a group of people.  It took the combined actions of the Mayo community to create one single moment that I don't think any of the adults or kids will forget.  Working together, we created a special memory for Maverick and his dad.  Teamwork is a powerful thing.  Now, more than ever, we need teamwork in our lives.  Our kids need to see teamwork in action.  There is so much division.  So many silos happening, groups and people working in isolation, pulling people in different directions.  

As Helen Keller once said, "Alone we can do so little; together we can so much."

Our phrase that I used so much last year was "in this together."  Thank you for pulling together as a team on Friday and continuing to pull together through everything.

P.S. Especially today when we are so short staffed!


Currently reading:

I am enjoying listening to The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth and discussing parts of the book with my Mastermind group on Monday nights. 

I also got a new graphic novel called Twins that I was reading this weekend.  It's part of an SEL collection that Mayo School was gifted thanks to Pam Allyn, Bookelicious and a new family learning community called Dewey that Pam Allyn co-created.  They sent us a whole bunch of books which teachers will be able to borrow to us with their classes. 

Events this week:

Monday - Laura R out

Tuesday - ELA Community of Practice virtual meeting from 4:00-5:30

Wednesday - Liz in an online district training from 8-11

Thursday - CST Meeting @ 8:00, Liz in Franklin for MSAA Board Meeting

**Spirit Week next week - Festive Day, Team/Mayo Spirit Day, Color Wars, Pajama Day

Great things I noticed last week:

  • 2nd graders in 2H were working on solving some math sequence patterns. 

  • The last STEM class until the new year...they got to program root robots! 

  • During bus duty, this K student was proudly displaying his teamwork note he earned. 

Check it out:

Loved finding this graphic...

Monday, December 6, 2021

Lessons From LEGO

 Principal pondering...

I needed to step away from my blog for a little bit and regroup.  My leadership courage and strength was definitely tested, and I learned that I can get knocked down and need time and space to get myself back up.  I also know that writing is my outlet, and I can't not write.  It's like this gravitational force that pulled me back.  I was trying to organize one of our rooms this weekend and kept finding LEGO pieces, partially built LEGO constructions, and LEGO instruction manuals.  And those LEGO items got me thinking... there's a lot to be learned from LEGOs.

Lesson #1 - You can always rebuild.

My kids like to build a LEGO set and then be done with it.  But I know my nephew loves to build his LEGO sets, then break them apart and rebuild something completely different.  Sometimes the basic structure is the same from the original design, but he has added his own twist to it.  Last week, we were FaceTimeing and he showed me his LEGO Hulk character where he had added a completely different arm with a sword and then had placed Hulk in a boat he had made.  Meanwhile, my daughter had discovered a set that she had built but between cats and her foster brother, the set had fallen apart.  She was upset but I said...so rebuild it, start over.  She proceeded to do that, rebuilding it to be exactly how she did it before.  When we are thinking about building school culture, just like LEGOs, it is something that can always be rebuilt.  Sometimes it will end up exactly as it was before or sometimes it will be a little different.  The important lesson is once it's built, you can always rebuild or make adjustments at anytime.

Lesson #2 - Create a system where positives outweigh the negatives.

The LEGO molds are some of the most accurate molds around.  Did you know that there are only about 18 bricks out of a million that don't fit the company standard?  That means that it doesn't happen very often where a brick is produced that doesn't have the right measurements.  That's a whole lot of bricks produced that do fit the mold.  Instead of focusing on the negative, LEGO works extremely hard to focus on the positive...the 999,982 bricks that did make the cut.  It's impossible to achieve perfection, only positive experiences, but you will be better off if you recognize the amount of positives, that typically clearly outweigh the negatives.

Lesson #3 - When you are lost, remember to find the joy and play.

The man who created the LEGO was named Ole Kirk Christiansen.  He was a carpenter who lost his business and decided to start making toys out of leftover wood.  He came up with the name LEGO from the first two letters of the Danish words "leg godt" which translates to "play well."  Thank goodness that carpenter didn't give up.  He found joy and decided that creating something amazing to play with was the most important thing.  I got knocked down, but seeing the kids in action, talking with them, observing them, watching them play and learn, they helped me back up.  Don't ever lose sight of the joy that surrounds us everyday.  

Lesson #4 - We are in the business of dealing with humans.

This is not a new lesson for me, but it's one that I clearly needed to remind myself.  Did you know that LEGO minfigures make up the largest population in the world?  If LEGO was a nation, watch out...there are over 4 billion LEGO minifigures!  Each of them so different with their facial features, clothing, coloring, etc. While we don't have that many people in our school, the people are the most important part of what we do, our interactions, our connections with each other.  And we are all human.  We have feelings.  We make mistakes.  We have opinions.  We are fragile.  We are strong.  We are human and we have to remember the human side of education, with each other and with our little humans.

Another interesting fact about LEGO pieces...

LEGO Duplo bricks can connect with regular LEGO bricks.  Duplo means double, so those bricks are exactly double the size of the regular bricks.  But the cool thing is...they are still compatible with each other.  You can connect them and build with them both!  The reasoning for this design was of course to make sure little kids could safely play with pieces and not put them in their mouths.  Something else that is cool is that a LEGO brick from 1958 can connect with a LEGO brick that was just created yesterday.  The bricks were designed to be universal.  No matter when they were made, they all fit well together.  I just thought these facts are symbolic of the work we do here at school.  When you drill down to our main purpose, we have kids and we have adults and we are able to and need to connect and work together to build something amazing...much like what you can do with all those great LEGO bricks.

Currently reading:

I am enjoying reading a book that arrived on my doorstep Friday night.  It's called The 6 Literacy Levers: Creating a Community of Readers.  It's written by a good friend of mine Brad Gustafson, another principal who loves literacy just as much as I do.  The cool thing about this book is Mayo School is in the book...on page 160!  He loved the story of when Patty Hurley and I climbed into the lobby display case to announce the March Madness Book Bracket winner, Wonder.  Brad is a master at writing a professional development book that reads like a story and is full of great strategies and ideas.

I am a glutton for punishment but I started listening to the book Death in Slow Motion, a memoir about a mother who was a writer and had Alzheimer's written by a daughter who is a writer.  It's tough to listen to, but I need the brutal honesty in it.  
I attended an event where local authors were selling and signing their books.  And I picked up a great writing craft book called Bad Choices Make Good Stories: Conversations About Writing.  It's written by Erin Dionne, a local middle grade author.  I am enjoying her writing advice. 

Events this week: 

Monday - Laura has to quarantine this week, but will be working from home

Tuesday - Liz G will be presenting at Dawson's staff meeting from 8-9:00

Wednesday - Picture Retake Day, Student Council Meeting @ 8:00am, Liz G in late after doctor's appt

Thursday - Liz G in DEI Leadership Training with Teachers 21 from 8-10:00

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Mrs. Petersen is growing readers in her classroom! 

  • Mrs. Hilton's 3rd graders have been working hard on their opinion writing and they invited me in to hear them read what they had to say.  They all had some compelling arguments for changes to made at the school. 

  • Love seeing all the new Choose To Be Nice gear that more and more students and staff are wearing! 

  • When teachers get creative about solving problems, amazing things can happen.  Watching this 5th grader work with this kindergartener to do some math work made my year.  It's moments like this that remind me of why I do what I do. 

Check it out:

While listening to a book about growth, I heard this quote that definitely resonated with me...


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.