Sunday, December 15, 2013

Ubuntu: "I am because of you"

Principal ponderings...

As 2013 quickly comes to an end, I spent this weekend remembering back to this time last year.  The unfathomable had happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and we were all trying to hold it together and keep a brave face for all of our students and parents.  I remember getting updates on my computer during that day and thinking this can't be happening.  I remember all of us sitting in the library the following Monday, coming together to make a plan, to figure out how we were going to do our best to not let the outside news seep into our classrooms and our students' thoughts.  We had to figure out how we were going to stand in front of kids and teach like we always do, while inside we were mourning Newtown.  When I was finally able to get in my car and drive home, I cried the whole way home for those educators and those precious children.  It was probably the hardest day for me in my entire education career.  And this weekend, as I watched the news clips and videos of families who lost their children a year ago, I cried again.

For me, this week last year was emotionally draining.  Starting the week in the aftermath of what happened at Sandy Hook was difficult.  It became more difficult because I was awaiting the call from my mother.  The call that my grandmother had passed away.  We knew it was going to happen; it was a matter of days.  I remember that once again I was sitting in the library after school; this time I was teaching a writing course for several of our teachers.  That was one of those moments when I simultaneously loved the immediacy of cell phones and hated it at the same time.  I wanted to know when my grandmother's life had ended, but at the same time, I did not want to answer that phone call. While I knew that my grandmother could not live forever, for the second time in a week I couldn't help but think this can't be happening.  And again, I cried in my car on my drive home.

If you are still reading this blog entry, you might be wondering a.) is she trying to be a complete downer the week before the holiday break? or b.) does she cry all the time? or c.) why in the world is she telling all of us this?  Well, fast forward to this year, to today, where I am sitting in Panera typing this blog.  Before I began typing and before I had decided what my entry would be about, I watched a TedTalk video about a wildlife activist whose topic was 'What I learned from Nelson Mandela.'  Just before he walked onto the stage to deliver his talk, he learned that Nelson Mandela had passed away. The man had grown up in South Africa and Nelson Mandela had in fact stayed with the man's family after he was released from prison.  Mandela talked with his family about how his time in prison gave him time to think within, to "create in himself the things he most wanted for South Africa: peace, reconciliation, harmony."  Mandela came to embody a phrase they use in South Africa: ubuntu or 'I am because of you.'  People are not people without other people.  This phrase struck me.  It's not like this is some new concept, but it certainly gave me a different perspective as I thought about what happened a year ago.

Ubuntu, I am because of you.  I think about the principal of Sandy Hook and the educators and students who lost their lives that day.  I think about all of the staff, students, families who survived, who are still surviving since that day.  Their lives have been forever changed.  They are who they are because of what happened that day.  And because of the interactions that have happened with so many others as a result of that day.  We are who we are today, a school that is acutely aware every day that we are trusted to protect children, because of our indirect interactions with the families of Newtown.

Ubuntu, I am because of you.  I think about my grandmother.  There is no doubt in my mind that I am who I am today, a caring, dedicated educator, because of my grandmother.  I have so many wonderful memories of our education talks.  She was always interested in what was going on in the world of education, and I know she was proud of my mother and I for becoming educators.  She understood my dedication to having a positive impact on the lives of children.  I am who I am today, an opinionated instructional leader who advocates for kids, because of my grandmother.

Ubuntu, I am because of you.  We are the teachers that we are because of our interactions with each other and especially because of our interactions with our students.  So as you finish out 2013 this week in your classrooms, think about the kind of educator that you are.  Who has helped you become who you are?  How have your students molded you into the teacher you are today?  How will you change as your interactions change?  How have your interactions with others and the world around you impacted you?  How will these interactions continue to impact you in 2014?  We need all kinds of interactions with humanity, the sad, the happy, the engaging, the uncomfortable; we need all of these interactions.  It is these connections that make us who we are.

So...who are you?

Currently reading:
Friday night I enjoyed a quick, fun read: The Trouble with Chickens.
This is another Massachusetts Childrens' Book Award book.  I loved the two different perspectives that the author used to tell the story.  Speaking of the author, Doreen Cronin has written many other books that I love, including Diary of a Worm, Click, Clack Moo: Cows That Type, and Giggle, Giggle, Quack.  I read a bio about her and learned that she actually went to law school, but had sent off Click, Clack Moo to many publishers before law school.  She got lots of rejection letters and then after 5 years, finally got published.  How could someone reject Click, Clack Moo?  She's a great example to share with our students...success comes after failure...don't give up!
Last weekend, at the holiday fair, there was the used book sale set up in the hallway.  I know, you are probably surprised to learn that I purchased some used books from the sale.  I told you I have an addiction! :)
I started reading one of my new purchases this weekend: Dewey, The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World.  This book is about a cat named Dewey Readmore Books who ended up living in the Spencer Public Library in Iowa.  I have to say that even though I'm only a third of the way through the book, I do love the way the author writes:
"There is a thousand-mile table of land in the middle of the United States, between the Mississippi River on the east and the deserts on the west.  Out here, there are rolling hills, but no mountains.  There are rivers and creeks, but few large lakes....Out here, the roads are straight, stretching to the horizon in long, unbroken lines.  There are no corners, only occasional, almost imperceptible bends....Exactly every mile, every road is intersected by another almost perfectly straight road.  Inside is a square mile of farmland.  Take a million of those square miles, lace them together, and you have one of the most important agricultural regions in the world.  The Great Plains.  The Bread Basket.  The Heartland.  Or, as many people think of it, the place you fly over on your way to somewhere else.  Let them have the oceans and mountains, their beaches and their ski resorts. I'll take Iowa."
I can tell by her writing that she is a librarian who has read a ton.  It's amazing the impact our reading habits have on our writing.  I'd like to think that with all of the reading our students have been doing this year...think about the positive impact that is bound to have on their writing!

Events this week:
Monday - Deep breaths is the week before the holiday break...I think we can, I think we can, I think we can...
Tuesday - Data shredder will be emptied today
Wednesday - Tacky Holiday Outfit Day! (There will be a prize given out at the staff meeting!) 4th grade chorus @2:25 in the gym, Staff meeting @3:30
Thursday - HS Band Concert @ 9:30 in the PAC, Shivani D. will be our Principal for the Day!
Friday - HS Chorus Concert @ 9:30 in the gym, HS Chorus Concert @ 1:00 in the gym
Happy holidays and see everyone in 2014!

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Recently I recommended an historical fiction book, The Birchbark House, to Mr. Smith's 3rd grade class.  They have been reading it as a class read aloud, and they wanted to tell me that they had become very attached to the characters.  We had a great discussion about how good books have the ability to pull you into them and bring out different emotions in us.  I was excited to hear that several students had liked the read aloud so much...they went to the library and found their own copy to read!
  • Have you seen the gingerbread baby?  He is on the loose and our kindergarten students have been collecting clues.  Mrs. Cook's class visited me in the office and I told them I thought I saw him running down the second grade hall.  Mrs. Taylor's class wrote a missing poster and created a giant gingerbread house in the hopes of luring him back.

I'm not sure whoooo made these owls, but they look interesting.  Mrs. Goddard always manages to help our students create amazing artwork.  The holiday singers caught my attention too.  Love their musical 3-D songbooks!

 Check it out:
Hmmm...are you engaging our active learners?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Education is the most powerful weapon

Principal ponderings...
As I was reading an article about Nelson Mandela's life and death, I came across this quote from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: "Mandela's strength as a teacher is that he not only advised us what to do, he showed us how."  It is truly amazing to think about what this one man did in his lifetime. For our students, now he will be someone they will only read about; he was responsible for changing their world, but they will not grow up with this inspirational leader as part of their life.  And so it is important for us to share his message with future generations..."Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."  I am reminded that we are charged with providing the best education for our young students.  We are arming them with knowledge.  How lucky are we that we get to mold the future?!  We get to educate the future change agents.  It's not an easy job at all, but it is the most rewarding job.  So when you are sitting in your classroom, enjoying those last few quiet minutes before the future comes running through your door...remember all the potential that lies within each student, and get excited about educating them!
Here's a great clip of Maya Angelou reciting a tribute poem in memory of Nelson Mandela, "His Day is Done":

Currently reading:

Thanks to Mrs. Mills for lending me a copy of one of the MCBA books, Inside Out and Back Again by Thannhha Lai.  I just started reading it this weekend.  Similar to the last book I read, it is written in free verse format and tells the story of a child refugee from Saigon who ends up in Alabama.  I have also been enjoying reading articles from this month's Educational Leadership magazine; the focus is 'getting students to mastery.'
Here is a book trailer about Inside Out and Back Again.  Might be an interesting project to have your students create book trailers about books they are reading!

Events this week:
Monday - After school Latin program, 3:30-4:30
Tuesday - After school Latin program, 3:30-4:30
Wednesday - 4th grade chorus @ 2:25, School Council meeting in the library @ 3:30
Thursday - Curriculum half day @ SU 1:15-4:15, Staff Holiday Party @ Bailey's beginning at 4:30

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Mrs. Roundtree's 4th graders were engaging in lively book discussions with partners about Tiger Rising.  
  • I saw some interesting opinion writing pieces hanging in the second grade hallway.  Mrs. Hoke and Mrs. Jacques have displayed their students' writing pieces.  If you get a chance, stop by and read about which animals would make the best pets!
  • The Holiday Fair was a huge success!  Mr Wiesner did an amazing job with each grade level performing several songs.  Parents commented throughout the day on how awesome the students sounded.  Mrs. Potter and Mrs. Clark were on hand to help Casey with colorful hair extensions.  Thanks to the many teachers who came to help out during the day.  

Check it out:
Love this list of affirmations to help teachers establish a growth mindset:

Monday, December 2, 2013

How are my kids doing?

**Sorry I am a little late with my Monday morning musings...still recovering from turkey and stuffing overload!

Principal ponderings...
My parents drove up from Virginia to spend Thanksgiving with us.  Throughout their stay with us, my mother continually wanted to know "how are you?", "everything going well?", "are you doing ok?"  I talk on the phone with my mother pretty regularly, but she still likes to be able to have a face to face conversation and actually see how I am doing.  I am reminded that no matter how old I get, I will always be her child and she will always want to know how I am doing.  This made me think about our upcoming parent conferences this week.  On Wednesday and Thursday, your days will be filled with many scheduled slots of time.   Lots of moms and dads searching for the answer to the same question..."how are my kids doing?"

I know that it will be long days and you will be tired by the end of the conferences and you will never really have enough time to share everything.  Just remember that your students' parents have one concern.  Just like my mother during this past holiday visit, they want to make sure that their children are doing well.  They want to make are that their children are learning and growing, and they want to hear it from you, the teacher, directly, face to face.  So even though you might be tired and you might feel like you will lose your voice from so much talking...remember that they are parents who only care about their child and want wants best for them.  They are trusting you with their most special possession.  Share with them all the wonderful learning and growth that is happening in your classrooms with their children.  Let them know how their kids are doing.

Currently reading:
Over the holiday break, I read a great historical fiction book called Out of the Dust.  It is a novel about the Dust Bowl that is written in a free verse format.  Thanks Dianna for recommending it to me!  I have started the book Breadcrumbs, written by the same author who wrote The Real Boy.

Events this week:
**Please join me in welcoming Jean Fitzpatrick to our school.  Jean will be Anne Marie's maternity sub for the rest of the year.  I am sure everyone will make her feel welcome.

Wednesday - Early release day, evening conferences, PTA providing dinner for the teachers beginning at 4:15
Thursday - Early release day, afternoon conferences
Saturday - Holiday Fair at the Middle School, 10:00-2:00
Holiday concert schedule:
4th grade: 10:30
1st grade: 11:15
3rd grade: 12:00
2nd grade and multi-age: 12:45
Kindergarten: 1:30

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Mr. Rider's class got into the spirit Wednesday morning doing "The Continental Drift"!  Even after the craziness of a morning with no was great to see students starting their day dancing.  Thanks Kristen and Patti for teaching the dance in gym class. (I tried to upload a video clip but it seems to not be working today.)
  • Mrs. Clark's class was making a class list of things they were thankful for in order to create a class poem.  They even let me add my thoughts!
  • 2 students from Mrs. Riley' class visited me in my office and showed me that they were making butter in their class.  They even demonstrated their shaking method and counted to 30 in Chinese for me.  Again, had a video clip to share but having technical difficulties today!
Check it out:
Here's some resources for parent teacher conferences :)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What I'm Thankful For

Principal ponderings...

I am thankful for my job. 
I love my job.  I am truly grateful that I get to be the lead learner of an elementary school.  Every day is different.  Every day I learn something new.  Every day I am challenged to think and grow.  Best of all, every day I get to interact with some really great kids.  And the adults are pretty cool too!

I am thankful for dedicated teachers.
The teachers at our school are extremely dedicated.  They go above and beyond for our students.  They collaborate with each other and share their learning with each other.  Our teachers are in the building early in the morning and long after students have left for the day.  I am thankful that we have teachers who work hard to make a difference in students' lives every single day.

I am thankful for books, books and more books!
If you know me at all, then you know of course books would be on my thankful list.  I love that I have a house full of books, an office full of books, and even a nook and an ipad with electronic books on them.  I love to read, and I am thankful that my job supports my reading addiction.  I am also thankful that I get to share my love of books and reading with the teachers and students in my school.

I am thankful for a supportive husband.
Thank goodness for Mr. Garden.  I am so glad that I have a husband who understands that even though I say I am going to be home by 5:00, I usually don't get home until at least 7.  I am grateful for a loving husband who realizes that he often has to be patient while I am spending time with my laptop and my never-ending emails and long to-do lists on our couch.  I am also grateful for a husband who encourages me to sometimes close the laptop and ignore the never-ending emails and the long to-do lists.  He reminds me that there is always tomorrow and eventually things will get done.

I am thankful for twitter and my PLN.
Thanks to twitter, I never feel like I am alone in my job.  My professional learning network continues to grow, and I learn something new from people all over the world every time I enter the world of twitter.  Twitter has helped me make connections.  Twitter has guaranteed that my professional development is always, well, developing!  Twitter has not only connected me to educators well beyond my community; it has also allowed me to provide connections and information for the staff ad students in our building.

I am thankful for our students.
Our students put a smile on my face.  They are the reason that I get to work as early as I can.  They are the reason that I continue to read as much as I can about best practice.  When I am having a rough day, it usually only takes a few minutes in a classroom talking to a student to forget about what was stressing me out before.  I am so thankful that I get to watch when it clicks for a student.  I am also thankful that I get to be involved in helping a student when they are struggling.  I love our students!

So what are you thankful for?

Currently reading:
I was talking to Mrs. Fournier's 3rd grade class about what books they had been reading recently.  They have been reading quite a variety.  One book that they had taken a close look at during their unit on characters was Because of Winn-Dixie.  While I have read many books by Kate DiCamillo, I was embarrassed to admit that I had not read her first novel.  So this past weekend I read it and enjoyed it!

Events this week:
Monday - Teachers will be verifying report cards, Dr. Bent visits classrooms at 1:00
Tuesday - Last day to update report cards
Wednesday - Early release day, report cards available online at noon
Thursday - Happy Thanksgiving! No School
Friday - No School

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Mrs. Fournier's class invited me in to talk about how many books they had been reading.  The class set a goal to read 50 books in a month.  Guess what...they crushed their goal and red 83 books in a month!  Awesome job!
  • Mr. Smith's 3rd graders were trying out the new chrome books by typing some of their pilgrim writing on them.  The only sound in the room was fingers tapping away on the shiny new keyboards.
  • Mrs. Fulreader led a great training session for parents who signed up to volunteer during recess and lunch.  She had parents playing rock, paper, scissors, 4 square and switch.  Looking forward to parents engaging kids in games on the playground.
  •  1st graders were working on some combinations of numbers that forced them to add up to 4 numbers together.  And yes, they are using X to show the unknown in their equations!
  • I was in Mrs. Wilkins's first grade class and they were writing and drawing about things they were thankful for.  This student was doing some amazing drawings with his pen!  And he was making me hungry. ;)

Check it out:
Once what Kid President has to say.  Here he shares with us 20 things we should say more often:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

We all need some 'me time'

Principal ponderings...
No matter what school district I have been in, there is always this certain block of time on the school calendar.  It's not recorded, you won't find it listed on any district calendar, but I know it's there.  I can always sense when it's about to start...usually right before Thanksgiving.  And typically it doesn't end until sometime in February.  Not sure what to call it, maybe 'every little thing is stressing me out' time or 'will I ever accomplish all that needs to be done' time or 'work stress, home stress, life stress, oh my!' time.  Whatever you want to call it, it happens every year in schools.  It's the combination of the excitement of the beginning of the school year wearing off, the weather changing, the holidays and all the craziness that goes along with them, and everyone letting themselves get a little run down.  Educators work so hard trying to keep everything in balance and provide the best for students, but sometimes they forget about the most important person...themselves!

So this will probably be the first of many blog entries during this time period where I remind everyone about making sure to plan for some 'me time'.  Like the quote above says, if you remember to take some time for yourself, then "you will have the right energy for everyone and everything else."  Trust me, I don't always take my own advice!  But I do try to make sure that I have some nights where I shut my laptop and choose to do anything but work.  Or on Saturdays, I make sure to schedule an acupuncture session and turn my mind off for the hour that I am there.  Or I go get a pedicure.  Or I crawl back into bed on a weekend day and read a good book.  My 'me time' may not look like yours, but the important thing is that you remember to take care of you.  So what have you done for yourself lately?  If you can't think of anything, then make sure you plan a little 'me time' this week.  After all, how can you take care of all the young minds in our school, if you don't first take care of yourself?

Currently reading:
This weekend I read the book The Real Boy by Anne Ursu.  This is a fantasy book that certainly reminded me of the Harry Potter books because there is some magic as well as wizards in the book.  You can also make a connection to the classic tale of Pinnochio, a boy made out of wood.  The main character, Oscar, has many characteristics of a child on the spectrum.  After I finished the book and researched the author, I found it interesting that she has a son with Asperger's.  My guess is that he provided a lot of inspiration for Oscar's character.  I have also been continuing to read Donalyn Miller's book, Reading in the Wild.

Events this week:
iPass grades open all this week for teachers to record report card information
Monday - 4th grade field trip to Lowell Mills, after school Latin program
Tuesday - 4th grade field trip to Lowell Mills, after school Latin program
Wednesday - 4th grade field trip to Lowell Mills, Grade 2 and multi-age chorus @ 2:25, staff meeting @ 3:30
Thursday - Genius Bar, 3:15 @ Boutwell

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I had a really great conversation with Mrs. Nissi about all the amazing chats and discoveries that came out in her 4th grade class after she read The One and Only Ivan to them.  The conversation spilled into other conversations about the book and the characters with Mrs Roundtree and Mrs. Mills.  I love it when a book can have such a strong impact on adults and kids!
  • Mrs. Clark shared a story with me that made me smile.  A student who struggles with math and participates in the math group in Mr. Coronis's class with Mrs. Smith, was waiting to transition to math class.  She saw another student struggling with a math problem and she went up to the other student and told her she could help her.  And then she asked Mrs. Clark if she could get her multiplication chart because that was a strategy that worked for her.  Kudos to Mr. Coronis, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Bugbee for creating an environment where students who have always struggled with math are now gaining confidence and have started to believe in themselves!  
  • Students in Mrs. Guernsey's class were totally engaged in Mrs. Wynn's 15 minute lesson on learning the 9's facts for multiplication.  They were all identifying lots of patterns that they noticed happening in the ones and tens place in the products.  If you see a student from her class, quiz them with a fact like 9x6 and if you could see what was going on in their brains, you would probably see them thinking 'minus one, get to nine!'

Check it out:
Donalyn Miller shares 10 ways to spark a love for reading:
Love this blog entry about taking the time to notice those around us.  Let someone know how much you value them!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nourishing the seeds

Principal ponderings...
In the foreword to the book Reading in the Wild, I came across a quote from an old Buddhist proverb that I want to share with all of you and discuss.

"If a seed of lettuce will not grow, we do not blame the lettuce.  
Instead, the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly."

Our students are our seeds.  Are we always nourishing them properly?  This proverb made me stop and think about some of our recent SST meetings that we have had where we have been discussing many different struggling learners.  I think we need to remind ourselves that many students will struggle.  We need to figure out how to reach them.  We also need to remember that just because a student is struggling, that does not necessarily mean that student needs special education.  Here is an interesting piece of information that I came across as I was preparing to write this blog post: Did you know that Massachusetts ranked 5th nationally in terms of its share of students with disabilities in 2000-01; by 2009-10, the state counted 167,000 students with disabilities among 940,000 pupils and took 2nd place?(
Of course, part of the reason for this is because as a state we have become one of the leaders in special education services.  Plus, as a wealthier state, we have more parents who have the resources and funds to get as much support for their children as possible.  But I do think that the 'struggling learner' is not always recognized anymore.  There are times when a student is not learning the new material as quick as her classmates, and we immediately think...something must be wrong, she must have some sort of specific learning disability.  And the unfortunate truth is...if we evaluate a student enough and give them enough assessments, eventually we can probably find something that changes their label from 'struggling learner' to 'special needs student'.
So we need to keep making sure that we are providing the proper nourishment for our struggling learners.  As I am learning in Getting to Got It: Helping Struggling Students Learn How to Learn, "it is never too late to develop cognitive structures...struggling students already have the capability to learn: what they need to do is learn how to use their 'mental tools'."  I hope we can have some conversations with each other about what we need to do to help students learn how to learn.  If our students are not learning and growing, maybe we just haven't given them enough water and sunlight yet?

Currently reading:
This weekend I finished reading Summer of the Gypsy Moths.  This was another book about kids having to grow up pretty quickly because their parents were either not in the picture or weren't mentally able to handle raising children.  It definitely reminded me of Small as an Elephant.  I was very excited to get my copy of Reading in the Wild in the mail last week.  I had pre-ordered the book over the summer and completely forgot that it would be arriving in November!  This book is written by Donalyn Miller, the woman who wrote The Book Whisperer.  It is all about how to cultivate lifelong reading habits.  The beginning chapter of the book talks about making sure that we find time for students to read.  So glad that already this year I have seen a huge improvement in the amount of independent reading time that we are giving our kids.  Here's an interesting fact from the book: A student in the 98th percentile on standardized tests reads for 65.0 minutes per day.  This adds up to 4,358,000 words per year.  Giving kids time to read makes a difference!

Events this week:
Grades are now open in iPass and teachers can begin entering information.
Monday - No school, Veterans' Day, Thank you to all who have served or are currently serving our country
Tuesday - ELA half day sessions with Grace and Sharon, 1st in am, K in pm
Wednesday - Picture retake day, ELA half day sessions with Grace and Sharon, 3rd in am, 2 in pm, School Council meeting @ 3:30 in the library
Thursday - ELA half day sessions with Grace and Sharon, 4th in pm, Genius bar @ FR, PTA meeting in the cafeteria @ 3:30
Friday - Para meeting at 9:00 in the library, please stay off the playground beginning at 2:00, PTA will be painting, trimester 1 ends today

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Grace shared with me a story about one of our struggling 2nd grade readers.  The student had told Grace that she found a just right book that she had been looking for in the library.  Grace offered the student an Amelia Bedelia book, and the child said "No thanks, I think that one is a little too difficult for me.  But someday I will be able to read that book because I am getting better at reading."  How awesome that this student knows what kind of book is just right for her AND she knows that she is going to become a great reader with practice!
  • Mr. Wiesner took a group of 2nd graders into the hallway to discuss the life of Bach.  And he even had them do some mental math to figure out how many children Bach had!
  • Multi-age students in Mrs. Goddard's art class were studying the veins in leaves and tracing the outline of leaves to make their own branch pictures.
  • 1st graders were so excited to participate in the enrichment program from the Eric Carle Museum.  Did you know you can bind a book with just a popsicle stick and a rubber band?
Check it out:
I am definitely more of an ELA person, but over the years, I have grown to appreciate math more and more.  Here's a great TED talk that discusses how math is not just about calculation, but application and inspiration as well.  Take 6 minutes to watch this clip...make sure you watch it to the end because the most important message comes during the last minute of the clip.
Thanks Lynn for sharing this funny cartoon with me!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The view from above

Principal ponderings...
Last Thursday this was my view from the plane.  I was very excited when the pilot announced that if you were on the right side, then you could look out your window and see the Grand Canyon.  Yes.  I was on the right side!  Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the Grand Canyon with my mother.  And I can say, whether you are viewing it from the ground or viewing it from the air, it is truly an awe-inspiring sight.

This got me thinking about how we view the work we do everyday with our kids.  Most of the time our view is from the ground.  We see what is happening that day at that time in our classroom.  In the moment, we may see when it suddenly clicks for a students or we may see a student struggling to understand.  In the moment, we react and respond to kids' thoughts and questions.  In the moment, sometimes our lesson veers off track or we realize a teachable moment.  Hopefully in the moment, we are always challenging our kids to think instead of doing all the thinking for them.  We can certainly do this kind of teaching where we go day by day and lesson by lesson and recognize little victories with some students.  But we also need to view our work from the plane.  We need to make sure that we are continually pulling back and looking down from the window of the plane.  It is crucial that we see the big picture, the landforms that we just can't see if we always stay on the ground.  A lot of times this view is the one we are taking when we are working with our teams or the coaches.  We need to see what all of those day to day moments look like when we put them together.  We need to get a good picture of what we can do and where we can lead the students.  It is not always easy to take this view because sometimes it means that we need to change how we do our day to day work or it means setting deadlines for ourselves or it means doing more in depth planning.  Just because this kind of work is not easy does not mean we can not do.  In fact, it is necessary for our all of our students' to achieve success.

So please make sure that you continue to stop and take a look at the view from above.  It is awe-inspiring work that you are doing in your classrooms.

Currently reading:
On my flight out on Thursday, I finished reading Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin.  A good fractured fairy tale; let me know if you want to borrow my copy!  Next book on the list for me: Summer of the Gypsy Moths.  At the ASCD conference, there was a room full of brand new books for sale.  Guess who visited that room twice during the conference! And since I volunteered at the conference, I even got a gift certificate to use while book shopping.  One book that I purchased and am looking forward to skimming through during my flight home was Getting to Got It: Helping Struggling Students Learn How to Learn.   Another book that I brought along on my trip is called Letting Go of the Status Quo.  I am very excited about reading this book because one of the authors is a good friend of mine who I went to college with and still keep in touch with.
Events this week:
Monday - Liz out at conference
Wednesday - Kindergarten chorus @ 2:25 in the gym, Staff meeting @ 3:30
(Can it be possible that we have a week with not many events going on?!

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I saw lots of students and staff showing their school spirit last week on our different dress up days.  Miss Frizzle even made an appearance on book character day!
  • The 4th grade team invited me to a team meeting where we had a great dialogue about the new way that they are working on the best way to teach struggling math students.  Looking forward to continual discussions about the way we have math support set up in 4th grade; hopefully we will have some good ideas to share with the rest of the teams.
  • Grace and Sharon spent part of one day collaborating and planning with our TLA consultant, Joia.  She gave me some more ideas of titles to order as we continue to improve our classroom libraries.
Check it out:
I have to go catch a plane, so here is a quick, simple read that reminds us what quality readers do...
See you all back at school on Tuesday!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Quotes to think about...

Principal ponderings...
Here are my top 5 quotes for the week:
I shared this one with all of you before school started.  Now that we are two months in, I thought it was a good time to revisit it.  How are you doing with making every moment matter, every day?
This is an important one to remember, although it's a much harder one to always adhere to.  Sometimes we have to take a step back and think about whether we are simply filling students' heads with information or are we facilitating their learning by pushing them to solve problems on their own?
I couldn't agree more!  I'm very excited to see the buzz that you all are creating in your classes around reading.  Kids are reading.  Kids are talking about what they are reading.  Kids are recommending books to others.  Kids are writing about what they are reading.  I love it!
Teaching is definitely not easy.  Especially on our hardest days, the days when you feel like nothing seems to go right, you need to remember that when you push your students and yourself, it truly is going to be worth it.  When you are frustrated with the number of F&Ps you need to finish or it seems like half your class didn't seem to understand the math lesson and you have to switch gears and adjust your instruction...remember that all of your hard work is worth it.

I am a big believer that we can always improve.  If I get to a point where I think I can't improve my practice anymore, well then it will probably be time for me to find a new career.  As educators, we should always be thinking about how we can be better than we were the day before.  Certainly when you have a bad teaching day (we all have them), you make sure that the next day is better.  But I would argue that even when you have an amazing teaching day (we all have those as well), stop and think, how can I improve upon what I just did?  Don't our students deserve to have teachers who get better and better every single day?

Currently reading:
I am about halfway through Rump:The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin.  Love the perspective of Rumpelstiltskin...the author gets the reader to care about a character who we normally think is an evil character.  I also read a fabulous picture book to my nieces last week, all about writing a story, called Little Red Writing.  The characters are pencils and there's even a big, bad, Wolf 3000...the evil pencil sharpener!

Events this week:
All this week we will be collecting donations for the Lowell Humane Society.  Boxes will be in the front lobby.
Monday - Hat Day! Kindergarten Discover Fall program
Tuesday - Book Character Day! Kindergarten Discover Fall program, SEPAC Roundtable in cafeteria, 9:30-10:30, Grade 1 Library visit
Wednesday - Crazy Hair Day! Grade 4 Chorus at 2:25 in the gym
Thursday - FloRo Day! Curriculum Half Day, Evernote training for those new to evaluation tool this year, 1:15-3:15 in the library, PLC time for other teams, Liz out of the building at conference
Friday - Sports Day!  Liz out of the building at conference

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Staff did a great job with our lockdown scenarios.  It was certainly clear that you all will do whatever it takes to protect our students.  I hope that we never have to utilize the skills we practiced.  I also want to thank those of you who have shared ideas of how to keep improving our safety protocols.
  • I had the chance to pop into several of the bus open circle meetings, and I heard some really great conversations led by all of you.  Thank you for hosting these initial meetings; I do feel like it makes a difference in behavior on the bus.  

  • A first grader told me that I had someone helping me get some work done in my office...although it appears he drank all my diet coke and then proceeded to take a nap in my chair. ;)

Check it out:
I know that many of you reading my blog have said that you are trying to catch up with all of the articles or blog posts or websites that I include in this section.  So I will only post one short link.  If there were some articles that you meant to go back and read more is a good time! :)
Here is a great video clip of a dad celebrating his son's good news.  I definitely like the message that we need to remember to celebrate little things with our students.  I love that I have been receiving lots of positive learning opportunity forms.  It is so great to see the big smile on a student's face when I tell them I am proud of them and tell them to take the form home and share with mom or dad.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Change can be a beautiful thing

Principal ponderings...
As I was driving to a meeting at the high school on Friday, I was suddenly struck by how absolutely beautiful the trees looked.  It was one of those moments where I thought...when did they change colors?  Where have I been?  The landscape completely changed and I was just noticing it.  That's the funny thing about the leaves changing color: it is a gradual process that is happening all around us, but we don't necessarily notice the change happening.

As educators, we know a lot about change.  Changing initiatives.  Changing students.  Changing classrooms.  Changing teaching methods.  Changing staff.  Change is inevitable.  It's going to happen whether we like it or not.  I think that change can be a beautiful thing.  As long as it is change that has our students' best interest in mind.  After last Tuesday, I like that Mike Schmoker is focused on changing the way we think about teaching.  Some of the key points he discussed, things like giving kids 90 to 120 minutes a day of authentic literacy, continuously checking for understanding, and structuring lessons into small chunks where kids know the objective, these are not necessarily new concepts.  Unfortunately, with all of the changes that we deal with and encounter, we may have lost sight of some of the basics of what is truly best practice.  With the focus on the Common Core standards and standards based grading and formative & summative assessments, we may have been forced to make changes to our practice over time.  Tuesday's PD certainly made me stop and think and look at little more closely at how we are instructing our students.  Just like the fall foliage that happens around us and sometimes goes unnoticed for a while, we need to look closer at how we are teaching, embrace the changes that happen, remember the key components of best practice, and then hopefully we will see the most important and beautiful change of all, student growth.

Currently reading:
I finished Small as an Elephant, a good book, loved how the author actually researched the steps of the main character's journey, setting is in Maine so some familiar places.  I just started to read a book that I learned about from #titletalk on Twitter, Rump, The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin.  I also began reading Mike Schmoker's new book, Focus: Elevating the Essentials To Radically Improve Student Learning.  And since today is #NationalDayOnWriting, I pulled out a book I bought this summer to take a look at this week: Children Want to Write

Events this week:

Monday - 4th grade @ Mt. Wachuset, Charlotte Phillips from Boutwell will be shadowing Liz in the afternoon, After school Latin program
Tuesday - Grade 3 Star Lab in the PAC, After school Latin program
Wednesday - Grade 2 and Multi-age chorus practice @2:25, 4th grade students from Mrs. Roundtree's class saying pledge at School Committee Meeting, 7:00
Thursday - 9:20 Bus Open Circle Meeting, Curriculum half day, 1:00 Lockdown scenarios with Groton Police, 2:00-3:30 PLC time
Friday - Grade 1 visits the library
Saturday - Halloween parade @ 2:45 Prescott

Great things I noticed last week:

  • 2nd graders in Mrs. Benkley's class for looking closely at words that they struggled with during independent reading.  One student noticed that she thought the word was 'lucky', but a closer look revealed that it was actually 'luckily.'
  • Mrs. Spiczka's morning kindergarteners were excitedly singing all of the lively letter songs they have learned so far.
  • A kindergarten author shared his book with me, all about cars.  He had some very detailed drawings of different kinds of cars and trucks!

  • I stopped to read some of the goals that 4th graders made for themselves this year.  Of course, I loved the reading goals!

  • Mrs. Cook was on the floor with her students modeling using the manipulatives so that her students knew what to do...practicing counting objects and recording numbers.

Check it out:
Today is #NationalDayOnWriting so here are some links to articles about writing that I read recently:
Building writing stamina:
Lots of reasons to write!

And this was an interesting commentary about focusing on levels of books: