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!