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:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sometimes a good book is hard to find

* Since we had a day off on Monday and a PD day on Tuesday, this week's Monday morning musings have turned into Wednesday morning musings.  Even though we are now halfway through the week, I hope you will still take a few minutes to read what I wrote!

Principal ponderings...
On Monday, I spent the day at Heritage Day in Southborough with my family.  It was a beautiful day to be outside watching a parade, enjoying homemade ice cream, and shopping from local vendors.  The event look place in an open field right next to the town library.  Of course the library was having a used book sale.  And of course I had to meander over and check out the book sale.  Even though the voice of reason in my head was saying "you do not need to buy any more books until you read all the ones you have"...I couldn't not just take a quick look to see what was there!  There were tons of folding tables set up outside the library, full of boxes of books, and every few feet there were neon pink posters telling us book lovers where exactly to find the the biographies and memoirs or the children's books or the classics or any genre we we were looking for.  And so I began my book box shopping, quickly scanning the spines, looking for good titles to jump out at me.

Now here's the tough thing about used book sales...there are a lot of bad books in the mix.  I find that people hang onto the good books in their collection and donate the books that were not so good to the library.  As I was hunting for a few good books, it got me thinking about our classroom libraries.  I know I have been having conversations with many of you about how you have set up your library, how you have re-organized your library, and how we are focused more this year on students spending more time reading books from classroom libraries during the literacy block.  The question do we make sure we create effective classroom libraries in our classrooms?  Are the books that we make available to kids 'good books'?

We know that in order to teach kids to read, they need to have time to read.  But that also means we need to have a lot of books available for them to be able to choose during independent reading time.  As a classroom teacher, I remember that over the years I built a rather large classroom library.  Some books I acquired from teachers who had left, some books were from Scholastic, some were donations, some were from used book sales, some were bought new from bookstores, some were ordered through the school, and some were even from my childhood.  When I think back, I know that not all of the books that I had in my library were what I would consider 'good books.'  How do you know it's a 'good book' or not?  I came across this article that was published in the Journal of Language and Literacy Education in 2009, "Building an Effective Library": 

In the article, they list several sources to help teachers find 'high quality' literature.  The article also argues that as teachers we need to be "discriminating consumers of high-quality selections."  Some factors that can help you decide if the book is high-quality include: the cover, characters, plot, theme, language and illustrations.  When it comes down to it, you need to know all of the books in your library.  We don't just want lots and lots of different books in bins so we can say that we have hundreds of books for kids to choose from.  We want them choosing 'good books' so we need to know what books are in our classroom libraries.  We don't want our kids to feel like they are shopping at a used book sale at the library.  We need to remind ourselves that this is another time to think about quality over quantity.  Spend some time like I did on Monday, scan the spines and titles of the books in your library.  Make sure that your students have lots of 'good book' choices.  If it's not that great of a book...take it out of your classroom library.  I'm sure your local library will have no problem adding it to their used book sale!

Currently reading:
I am halfway through one of the MCBA books, Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.  I spent part of the long weekend reading Rafe Esquith's book, Lighting Their Fires: How Parents and Teachers Can Raise Extraordinary Kids in a Mixed-Up, Muddled-Up, Shook-Up World.  The whole book is him sharing lessons while he is at a Cardinals vs Dodgers baseball game with some of his students.  Each chapter goes through the innings and you learn about different concepts that can help kids build character and become extraordinary kids.
Here's a book that I just started skimming, it focuses on reading in K to 3 classrooms, talks about how to teach kids to read with "power, intention and joy", Reading for Real, by Kathy Collins:

And a cute book that I read with a student who earned some time with me last week:

This book I just got in the mail today.  A great book to use as a read aloud, to use as a model for writing, to use with a lesson on point of view...lots of possibilities with this one:

Events this week:

Monday - No school
Tuesday - Curriculum day @ PAC, guest speaker, Mike Schmoker
Wednesday - 4th grade at Wachusett, Staff meeting, 3:30-5:00, Grace will be with 1st grade, Sue will be with 2nd grade during PLC time
Thursday - 4th grade at Wachusett, Dr. Bent visits FloRo in the morning, PTA meeting @ 7:30, Grace, Dianna and Liz will be discussing homework with parents

Great things I noticed last week:

  • 4th graders in Mr. Coronis's class were watching a short video clip on line of a volcano erupting and discussing what they knew about rocks and minerals.
  • Staff getting their pictures taken for our ID badges!
  • 4th graders in Mrs. Nissi's class participating in peer editing conferences and giving each other some good constructive criticism about how to make their writing better
  • 2nd graders in Mrs. Jacques class having a discussion about how to add more detail to a piece of writing
Check it out
After I have more time to process Mike Schmoker's presentation today, I will write more about it on this blog, but I did want to share one of the sites of a person he referenced.  This is Madeline Hunter's site which describes lesson elements that he discussed a lot today:
An article in the Globe recently about the impact of the new standards:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Can't we just expect positive behavior?

Principal ponderings...
Here's a question that I know crossed my mind several times when I was a 2nd grade teacher: Why should I have to teach kids to behave in class?  They know what they are supposed to do.  Why can I not just expect good behavior?  I know that there were many days in my first year in 2nd grade where I felt like I was always just reacting to students who misbehaved.  And that meant that I was usually punishing them in some way...making them write about their bad choices, calling their parents, or the worst one...having them miss minutes from recess.  After struggling through that year, I realized that I needed to make a change.  I needed to be more proactive.  I needed to shift my focus to teaching the behavior expectations that I wanted and rewarding positive behavior.  Did you know that research has shown that when we implement punishments for negative behavior, such as a loss of privileges, especially when we do this inconsistently and without other positive strategies, it is ineffective?  It was an 'a-ha moment' for me when I realized that a much more positive approach would be to teach behavioral expectations and reward my students for following them instead of waiting for them to misbehave before responding.
I know we have already been in school a month, but I want to remind everyone that it takes time to introduce, model, and reinforce positive social behavior.  Stop and have you taught behavioral expectations to your students?  If some are still struggling with those expectations, do you have a plan to reteach them?  The more time you spend on this area now, the more time you will have for teaching reading, math, science, social studies in the future.  Our students are still learning how to behave, how to be good students, how to interact with adults and peers.  Let's make sure we are teaching them these skills instead of punishing them when they don't exhibit those skills.
I know one area where we all need to chip in and help with behavioral expectations is the playground and the cafeteria.  We still need to be teaching kids how to interact with each other during recess and lunch.  Even if you are not with your students during these times, you should still be having conversations with them about what our expectations are for them.  And if you notice them having a difficult time down in the lunchroom when you pick them up, then use that as a teachable moment to remind them of what you expect from them.  When they are demonstrating the expected behaviors, then recognize them for making the right choice!  I know that our students truly want to make the adults that work with them proud, so let's think about how we can give them more positive reinforcement and create opportunities for them to make us proud.

Currently reading:
I decided to add a new section to my blog!  Since I usually tell people or they ask me what I have been reading or what I am working on, I thought I would put it in writing so everyone can find book titles here.  This past weekend I read the global read aloud book, Marty Mcguire, by Kate Messner.  A cute story about a 3rd grade girl who would much rather be catching frogs than wearing a princess costume in the school play.  I also read The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes.  This is a book about a 2nd grade boy...which is great because there aren't too many books about 2nd grade boys!  I like how one review of the book said "Billy Miller's second grade year is quietly spectacular in a wonderfully ordinary way."
Here's a book I got from the book fair and read with my nieces. Funny book with some cat facts mixed in:

This is another book that I got at the book fair and plan to start reading.

Events this week:

Monday - After school Latin program from 3:30-4:30, we will let you know who should be attending
Tuesday - Evidence collection time...Teachers have one hour after school that can be dedicated to evidence collection.  You may choose to any location to work on evidence collection.  After school Latin program from 3:30-4:30, we will let you know who should be attending
Wednesday - School picture day!  Staff make sure you have your picture taken for badges, 2nd grade and multi-age chorus practice 2:25 in the gym, School Council Meeting 3:30-4:30 in the library, FloRo School Improvement Plan presentation at School Committee, 7:00 at the high school
Friday - Team leader meeting in the office at 8:30, Para meeting in the teachers' room at 9:00

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Staff asking great questions and focusing on our new safety procedures that were discussed during the Groton Police presentation.  Mrs. Valenta's story was difficult to hear, but helped reiterate the importance of the changes we are making.  Thank you to the paras who volunteered to stay after and hear the presentation.
  • Students, parents and teachers enjoyed going to the book fair last week.  Several families attended the evening event on Thursday.  I know I made several purchases to add to my library!
  • Mr. Wiesner had his first all grade chorus group on Wednesday.  When I walked by the gym, I couldn't help but pop in because the 4th graders sounded amazing!
  • I received a letter inviting me to come to Mrs. Taylor's room...I got to watch a video of kindergartners reading their "I have..." sentences that they did in writing.
Check it out:
My mother shared this blog entry with me this weekend.  Thought you would all enjoy this.  My favorite quote:
"Teaching is not easy. Teaching is not intuitive. Teaching is not something that anyone can figure out on their own. Education researchers spend lifetimes developing effective new teaching methods. Teaching takes hard work and constant training."
Considering how the month of September has been for many of us emotionally, I thought this was an appropriate read, "How are Happiness and Learning Connected?"
And here is a quote from someone I follow on Twitter, it stuck with me this weekend:
"Sometimes the only positive affirmation a student receives in their day, comes from their teacher.  Show them you care."