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 :)