Sunday, March 30, 2014

Are you a "whole teacher"?

Principal ponderings...

I stumbled across a great article on TeachThought, The Two Minds of a Teacher, that I keep turning over and over in my mind.  I had an idea of what I was going to write about this week, and then this article made the picture in my mind more clear.  We talk a lot about teaching the whole child.  Well the author of this article was focusing on how we can become a "whole teacher by joining the two minds of educators."  The author had read an essay by Wendell Berry called "Two Minds" which discussed the idea of everyone having both a Rational Mind and a Sympathetic Mind.  Both of these minds are constantly struggling to control what we say and do.  So how do these two minds translate in the brain of a teacher?

As teachers, we are told to be data-driven.  We have standards that we are supposed to adhere to and figure out the best instructional strategy to utilize.  We have to develop assessments that will guide our instruction and help us understand what our students know and still need to know.  We design lesson plans and entire units and pacing guides that will make sure we have covered all of the standards that we need to cover.  All of these actions are the work of our Rational Minds.  Even though the task presented to all of us...educate every a seemingly daunting and by all views, rather impossible one, our Rational Mind says that if we respond with logic, if we analyze and strategize, we will accomplish this task.  Or we will at least have a plan of how to accomplish the slightly overwhelming, stress-inducing, wake you up in the middle of the night kind of of task that teachers are charged with completing.  Thanks to our Rational Mind, we plan, we teach, we assess, we reteach, re-evaluate, we change our plans, and then we start the process all over again.

But then, thank goodness, there is the Sympathetic Mind.  The part of our mind that allows for curiosity, love, affection and joy.  As teachers we have to find a balance between a mind ruled by logic and a mind ruled by affection.  While the teacher's Rational Mind tends to take over, as Terry Heick says:

     "You’re keenly aware, though, of the tearing that has taken place by acting with logic. You’ve        
     separated a learner from their very human circumstances—their interests, past experience, 
     insecurities, and affections.

     Academic content from their native schema.
     Proficiency from curiosity.
     Scientific concepts from the application of science.
     Reading level from love of reading."
For good or bad, we live in an education world that is driven by all things measurable, our career is guided by science and research, which means we have "ridded our profession of superstitions like 'patience', 'self-knowledge' and 'community'."  We certainly need the Rational Mind, but we also need to balance it with the Sympathetic Mind.  The challenge that has been presented to us is to awaken our whole mind; when we do that we will elevate our teaching to a whole new level.  And as Terry Heick so perfectly puts it: "Always insisting, no matter what, that we don't resort to Rationality or even Sympathy, but rather act as 'whole teachers' in every single one of our interactions with and analyses of students, and in doing so model for them the significant practice of being human."
What will you do this week to become a "whole teacher"?  How will you reconnect the learner to his human characteristics, striving for proficiency without compromising curiosity? 
And after I wrote this entry, I read this post which certainly ties into what I was talking about:

Currently reading:
Thanks to Ellen Potter for loaning me The Fault in Our Stars.  I could not put it down and read it Saturday morning.  Towards the end, tears were streaming down my face, so if you read it, I recommend a box of tissues!
And after a recommendation from Zoann Guernsey, I have selected from my 'to be read' pile The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  It is written in the form of letters, and takes place in the mid-1940s.  I will let you know my thoughts when I have finished it.

Events this week:
Monday - Can you believe it is the last day of March?!
Tuesday - Grade 3 Hands on History presentation in the afternoon
Wednesday - "Light it up Blue" Day for autism awareness, Grade 3 chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym, Staff Meeting @ 3:30, Dr. Bent will be attending
Thursday - Community Reader Day!
Friday - Father/Daughter Dance @ 6:00 in the gym

Great things I noticed last week:

  • A student from Mr. Smith's class came to the office to share her non fiction project with me.  I learned some interesting facts about Helen Keller.  Be on the lookout for more projects hanging in the 3rd grade hallway!
  • Students in 2nd grade shared their heritage fair projects with each other.
  • Liam and Hayley did an awesome job leading the pledge at the School Committee meeting!  They shared some poems that they had written in Mrs. Guernsey's class.  And they asked the committee members some interesting questions, including "What do you do for work besides being on the committee?"
  • Mrs. Hoke's class invited me in to their class while they had a whole day celebrating penguins.  While wearing lots of black and favorite color combination...students tried to transfer penguin eggs using only their feet.
  • Kindergartners were trying out a few different rhythms on the xylophone with Mr. Wiesner.
Check it out:
  • April is National Poetry Month!  Did you know that one of my college degrees is a Poetry Concentration?  (Much to my father's dismay.)  I hope you will check out this post about creating Book Spine Poetry.  Try it out with your students and maybe their poems will get published in the 2014 gallery!  If anyone does this with their class, let me know; I'd love to post some pictures on our bulletin board in the lobby.
  • April is also National Autism Awareness Month.  April 2 is "Light it Up Blue" for autism awareness so wear your blue!  Here is a link that Patti Montague found that contains activities and resources for K to 12:
  • I discovered a great resource on  It's called PD2Go.  They have lots of video clips that are meant to provide professional development for literacy leaders.  Here is a clip that shows 3rd/4th grade boys having a book share that goes beyond Matt Christopher:
  • Here's another video showing students talking about books, tracing a theme between 2 books:
  • I forgot to put this picture in my post last week:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Oh the thinks you can think!

Principal ponderings...
This past Saturday, I attended our first elementary science fair.  We had over 120 students from both Swallow Union and Florence Roche sharing their projects which were either informative presentations or experimental presentations.  The middle school north gym was buzzing with eager little scientists. There were middle school and high school teachers there to judge the presentations, as well as some college students.  I made my way up and down the long aisles, listening to students explain everything from chromatography to germs to amounts of sugar in drinks (Yikes, stay away from Sunkist!).  As a former biology major and high school biology teacher, it was so exciting to see so many kids talking science with each other.  
One parent explained to me that her kindergartner had a very important question that she wanted an answer to: are bubbly potions hot or cold?  Well actually her original question involved being able to make a love potion. :)
A fourth grader had taken swabs from lots of different household items to figure out where the most germs were.
A first grader had built several models of the different kinds of volcanoes and was able to explain how each kind formed.
One of our third graders demonstrated to me how she extracted DNA from a strawberry.  Very cool!
I loved hearing from this second grader about how temperature affects the speed and distance a hockey puck travels.  Did you know that the NHL freezes all pucks for 10 days before using it in a game?  Well, this student did the experiment to prove the science behind this fact!  
The students did a terrific job presenting their experiments and information.  After they presented for the judges, they were free to travel to their peers' displays and learn from each other.  It was amazing to see the huge variety of topics and experiments.  It goes to show that our students have lots of different things that they are wondering about, and this fair gave them a chance to make some educated guesses and then figure out if their hypothesis was correct or not.
When I came home from the science fair, I stumbled across this blog article while I was browsing on twitter:
Just like the science fair giving kids a chance to be inquisitive and prove or disprove their hypotheses, the author of the above blog entry talks about the 'new math' that we have our students doing and how parents often criticize this notion of having kids explain their thinking.  We have to make sure that we are helping our students develop a foundation in number sense.  What does that mean?  It means they need to be able to think math in their heads, picture math, visualize number lines, use the number line to solve problems, and most importantly, explain how they got the answer.  (Or sometimes, just as important...why they came up with the wrong answer.)
We need to make sure that while we are teaching all of the content that we are supposed to teach, we are also making sure to teach our students how to think.

So my question for you...You know what topics to teach to your students, but do you know how to teach them to think?  What do those lessons plans about thinking look like?

Currently reading:
I have been reading several articles from this month's Educational Leadership magazine.  The topic this month is "Using Assessments Thoughtfully."  Definitely some good articles which I plan to possibly share with you when I am finished.
And as usual, too many books, not enough time.  Here is a picture of a pile of books that I want to read.

Events this week:
Monday - At 2:30 middle school students will be visiting classrooms to discuss clothing drive
Tuesday - 4th grade ELA MCAS morning session, At 2:30, middle school students will be visiting classrooms to discuss clothing drive
Wednesday - 4th grade ELA MCAS morning session, 3rd grade chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym, School Council Meeting at 3:30 in the library, 3rd graders leading pledge at School Committee Meeting at 7:00
Thursday - Long Comp make-up day for 4th graders
Friday - Last day for Yankee Candle orders

Great things I noticed last week:
  • 2 students in Mrs. Riley's class shared some of their irish step dancing moves with me on St. Patrick's Day.  They told me they practice dancing every Monday in an after school dance class.  The picture is a little blurry...hard to catch them since they moved rather fast!
  • Mrs. Cook's kindergartners demonstrated that they are experts when it comes to digraphs like, th, ch. and sh.
  • Check out this full box of books that the 4th graders have prepared to send off to a 4th grade class in Dracut as part of our "Read it Forward" project:
  • Students in Mrs. Wilkins's first grade class were working with partners to highlight words that they needed to use different strategies for in order to read a non fiction passage.
  • Kindergartners were creating quite a structure in the block area during free choice time.
  • Mrs. Miln's students were enjoying time with their book buddies.

Check it out:
I follow this blog where they focus on charts that can and should be used in elementary classrooms.  I also have a copy of their book if anyone is interested.  This week's post was an interesting one that focused on charts that have to do with non fiction reading and writing.

And some great comments on reading from twitter...
Check out this inspiring video of an amazing kid from Sierra Leone who has taught himself based on needs in his life and interests.  Kids have the ability to do anything!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sometimes you just have to go with the Flo!

Principal ponderings...
I had a different blog entry written for today.  I was actually ahead of schedule, adding the finishing touches to my entry last night.  And then something happened and a little message popped up and asked me if I wanted to reload my page because my unsaved changes would be lost.  But I was not worried because on Blogger it automatically saves as I type.  So I hit the reload button with no fear.  And then...I found a blank page staring back at me.  AAAAHHHH, everything I had written was gone.  My husband heard my quiet "oh no" and first said, "I'm sure it's there somewhere."  After he and I both realized that it was definitely not there, he said, "Well, do you have to write this week?  Can't you skip a week?"  Of course I have to write this blog.  No, I cannot skip a week.  People are expecting to get my email on Monday.  There is important information that needs to be shared.  

I was tired and I was frustrated, so what did I do?  I shut my computer and went to bed.  

When I woke up this morning, I remembered that on Friday one of our awesome staff members had given me this gift:
Yes, it is a meditating giraffe.  In the card, this staff member wrote: "This will help you remember to go with the Flo!"  Fast forward to this morning and I am taking a few deep breaths as I retype my blog and remind myself to go with the flow.  I am one of those people who thrives on stress.  Give me a long to do list and a short amount of time and I am all over it!  Pretty sure that's how I ended up in the role of principal.  (Well the thriving on stress factor along with wanting to have an impact on children.)  But there are today...when I need to stop, take a deep breath, and just go with the flow.

I was also reminded of the importance of stepping away from the stress factor on Friday night.  I know many of you were either helping sell raffle tickets, in the audience or even on stage performing at the variety show.  And even more staff contributed to the baskets for the raffle.  Even though I probably attended the least amount of practices, I still got up on stage and danced for all the kiddos.  It was so fun to see their smiling faces looking up at us, to hear them singing along, to high five them as we ran off the stage.  For the evening, we were education rockstars!  And I heard that the event raised over $4,000 to go to scholarships that will help create more education rockstars!  

After a long week of more budget meetings, difficult parent meetings, students having to be removed from class, Friday night was needed.  I loved every minute of it, and wished we could do it all over.  But now, it's Monday morning, back to reality.  While we won't be doing any dancing, the good news is we still get to be education rockstars every day.
**I want to take a minute to thank you for supporting me and working with me.  I know Dr. Bent sent out an email last week to all of you about my position.  I am truly happy to share that I will be signing a 3 year contract.  I look forward to all the possibilities that the future holds for Florence Roche.  I am honored to be the principal of a place that is much more than a school, it's a community of learners, and my home away from home!  And I love coming to work each day with all of you.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Currently reading:
I finished The Mighty Miss Malone which was a great historical fiction book about a family's love for each other during The Depression.  I have another book by the same author that I am starting, Bud, Not Buddy.  This weekend, as I unpacked the last box, I discovered that I have a lot of cookbooks.  So I started reading through some of them.  I have one that not only has great recipes and photos, but the writing in it makes it a good book to read.  It's called Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes.
The tag line on the front says: "A celebration of butter and sugar."  Well that hooked me in!  And she starts the book off by saying, "Let me be honest--sometimes my kitchen is a hot mess."  Yep, so is mine.  In another section, she writes: "Sometimes we need a hug; sometimes we need brownies.  Most times, we need both."  Amen!  You can tell from reading this cookbook that the baking author started off writing a blog and then turned her writing into a book.  (Hmm...I wonder if I can do that.)  When you have writing like this in it, I actually enjoy reading this cookbook almost as much as I enjoy making the recipes: "Biscuits don't care if you decide to sleep in on a Saturday instead of going to an early-morning yoga class.  They don't mind if you drank too much wine last night or if you have morning breath.  Biscuits won't love you less if you spill coffee on the morning paper and it doesn't faze them if you gobble down five of their biscuit friends at breakfast.  Biscuits are silent, perfect, nonjudgmental, buttery breakfast friends."
I also picked up a book that I had abandoned, hoping to get into this time: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu.

Events this week:
Monday - Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Tuesday - Long Comp Day for 4th grade, Grade 1 concert rehearsal from 12:00-1:15
Wednesday - 3rd grade ELA MCAS in the morning, 1st grade school concert @ 9:30, Staff meeting @3:30
Thursday - 3rd grade ELA MCAS in the morning, 2nd grade field trip to Peacock Players in the morning, 1st grade evening concert @ 7:00
Friday - Staff Breakfast beginning at 8:15 in the staff room (The Mahan family wanted to thank all of you for your support so they are providing a catered breakfast.)

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Did you know that our 4th graders read 483 books as part of the MCBA project, The Massachusetts Children's Book Award project?  That is amazing!  Flo Ro students voted on their favorite, Out of My Mind.  If you haven't read it yet, I recommend that you do.  I saw lots of students stopping to check out the bulletin board in the hallway that is dedicated to the MCBA books.  We have also been trying to get copies of all of the MCBA books into our school library.
  • 1st and 2nd grade teachers were solving math problems and explaining their thinking.  Don't forget pictures, equations and words!
Check it out:
This is an interesting list of 50 Crazy Ideas to Change Education.
And since it is the start of MCAS season...I love this letter that an elementary principal wrote to her students after the test results came in, reminding them that they are way more than a test score:

Some videos clips to make you smile this morning...Be more dog!
And here is a great rant about creating passwords!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Do you have the write stuff?

Principal ponderings...
On Tuesday, thanks to the PTA, we were lucky enough to have a very special guest at our school, Cynthia Lord.  Cynthia gave two wonderful presentations, one to our 1st and 2nd graders and one to our 3rd and 4th graders.  I also invited some 4th graders to have a lunch chat with her in my office.  I can't say enough great things about this author and about her visit to our school.  There was one unexpected surprise that happened with her visit.  Yes, kids were excited about hearing read her new HotRod Hamster book.  Yes, students got the message about how important reading is to writing.  Yes, students learned about the writing life of an author they enjoy.  The unexpected surprise for me was Cynthia's impact on all of you, our teachers.  

Several teachers came up to me after Cynthia's visit and talked about how motivated they were to write.  Did you know that many in the building have dabbled in the writing world?  Last year, I taught an after school class to several of your peers, and it was all about the importance of teachers writing.  How can we teach writing if we are not actually experiencing the struggles and joys that come along with writing?  Some of you may have book ideas that you are playing around with.  Some of you may write in a journal.  Some of you may write poetry.  Some of you may write articles or blogs.  I know for myself there is so much I want to write but it's not easy finding the time.  During the lunch chat with 4th graders, Cynthia talked about when she wrote Rules and she was working during the day.  She said she would get up and write from 4:00 to 6:00 in the morning.  That was her sacred time of day where it was quiet and she could focus on her writing.  After scheduling that time, it eventually became a habit and a time of day that she looked forward to each day.  

I am not advocating that we all go and try to write a book.  But I am advocating that we all write.  If you can share in the same experience as your students, you will be a better teacher and you will help them become better writers.  And along the way, through your writing, you just might discover things about yourself that you never knew.  Writing can certainly be stressful, especially when you are first trying to get something on the page.  But writing can also help you relieve your stress, helping you get thoughts out instead of holding them inside.  

I challenge all of you to get yourself into a writing routine.  It does not have to be at 4 am like Cynthia!  Once you get that routine in place, maybe it will become a habit.  Personally, I love that I have my weekly routine of writing this blog.  I look forward to doing it each week.  Share your writing with your peers.  As I mentioned, there are many of us in this building who love to write.  Talk about your writing life, whatever it looks like, with your class.  Remember Cynthia's advice...We all need to read. We all need to write.  We all need to observe.  We all need to dream.

So FloRo, do you have the write stuff? :)

Currently reading:
I am still working on finishing up Half a Chance and The Mighty Miss Malone.  I have a brand new copy of Hotrod Hamster: Monster Truck Mania from Cynthia Lord in my office.  I read through it before I have to turn it over to our school library.  I also spent some time reading more of Book Love.

Events this week:
We are collecting registration packets for kindergarten all this week in the front office.  Report cards are open for you to enter in iPass.
Wednesday - Grade 1 chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym, School Council meeting @ 3:30 in the office, School Committee meeting @ 7:00 at the high school
Thursday - Curriculum half day: meet at 1:15 in the library (lab teachers will be meeting with Grace and Sharon)
Friday - Para meeting @ 9:00 on the staff room, Grade 1 chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym, Variety Show @ 7:00 in the PAC...come see your colleagues ROAR! :)

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Students in Mrs. Snow's class were writing opinion pieces about going to bed at a scheduled time.
  • Students asked Cynthia questions such as: how did you think of certain characters?, tell us about the spot where you like to write, what is your favorite book that you have written?, how long does it take you to write a book?
  • Our 2nd graders and multi-age classes did an awesome job singing their hearts out at the concert!
  • Mrs. Hoke's 2nd graders presented their heritage projects on Wednesday night.  I learned a lot about various countries and an added bonus...I got to try lots of family recipes!
  • Our 4th graders were invited to a middle school assembly on Friday.  They listened to a motivational speech about accepting people with differences by Becky Curran and asked some really thoughtful questions.
Check it out:
Interesting blog post about not punishing students:

Monday, March 3, 2014

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Principal ponderings...
Did you know that yesterday would have been Dr. Seuss's 110th birthday?!  It's amazing to think that more than 20 years have gone by since his passing, yet his books are still loved and read by millions of children around the world and right here at Florence Roche.  For those of you who haven't been in my office in a while, here is a picture of one of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes that I have on my wall:
Here are some interesting facts that I learned while reading about Dr. Seuss this weekend...
  • His full name was Theodor Seuss Geisel.
  • He was not a medical doctor.  In his words, "I put the 'Dr' on the 'Seuss' to make me sound more professorial."
  • Green Eggs and Ham was written after his publishers dared him to try to write a book using only 50 different words.  Hmmm...what if we tried a dare like that with our students?!
  • When he wrote for a humor magazine in New York, he did not always get paid in cash.  One time he was paid 100 cartons of shaving cream and hundreds of nail clippers.  Were they trying to tell him something?!
  • The Butter Battle Book was written during the Reagan administration and was inspired by the Cold War.
  • The decision to put a hat on a cat may have come from Seuss's love of hats.  He has a large collection of hats that are actually touring the country right now.  For another week you can see them in Northhampton!
And here are a few great quotes from Dr. Seuss...
(So hard to just select a few!)

Happy reading everyone! :)
Oh and speaking of reading...I am working with a community member who wants to help us with our school library.  Judy Anderson who volunteers in our library is working to set up an Amazon link where parents and/or community members could go on the site and purchase books to donate to our library.  Teachers, the first step is I am asking all of you to send me a wish list of books that you would like to see available in our school library. 

Currently reading:
I am still working on finishing up The Mighty Miss Malone.  I love that the Malone family motto is "We are a family on a journey to a place called wonderful."  Pretty amazing for a family to have that motto when it's 1936 and the Great Depression has hit them.  Currently on my bedside table is the book Nonfiction Mentor Texts.
 I have been skimming through this book to see what books we need to add to classroom libraries and our school library.  I also pulled out a picture book I got last year to read more closely...Mossy by Jan Brett.  This beautifully illustrated book is about a turtle named Mossy who has a garden growing on her shell.  It is a story about "love, loyalty and home."  Let me know if you want to borrow it to share with your class!

Events this week:
**This week one of our Brownie troops has organized a food drive for Loaves and Fishes.  Donations will be collected in the front lobby.
Monday - 2nd PPS finalist will be in the district today to meet with staff and parents.
Tuesday - Author Cynthia Lord will be visiting our school, 1/2 presentation @ 9:30 in the PAC, 3/4 presentation @ 11:00 in the PAC, 2nd grade and multi-age chorus concert @ 7:00 in the PAC (make-up from snow day)
Wednesday - 1st grade chorus practice in the gym @ 2:25, Staff meeting @ 3:30
Thursday - Kindergarten Orientation @ 6:30 in the gym
Friday - End of trimester 2

Great things I noticed last week:

  • 4th graders in Mrs. Nissi's class were doing some great brainstorming to think about developing superhero characters for their writing.  Thanks to the visiting author who was guiding them through the exercises.  Didn't have my camera with me to snap a shot!
  • Students in Mrs. Jacques class were working on transferring their penguin facts to display posters. 
  • I caught Mrs. Smith working with some 4th graders on division.  And they were successfully using all the correct steps of long division.
  • I shared some of my picture books with Mrs. Guernsey's class...The Day the Crayons Quit and Little Red Writing.  Below is a picture of some of the writing that students in her class did using the same idea of perspective writing of inanimate objects. 
  • The school enjoyed watching the play preview on Wednesday.
  • When I popped into Mrs. Spiczka's class, I saw a student doing some great math equations on his own.  He and I had a discussion about the number line and how he sees the numbers that come before zero!

Check it out:
Here is link with 100 of the best educational games for iPads:

A principal who I follow and often chat with through twitter or podcasts:

8 Things to Look for in Today's Classroom:

And I'll leave you with this thought...