Sunday, April 27, 2014

Crossing the finish line

Principal ponderings...

Monday, April 21, 2014, was an emotional day for many of us in MA.  It was marathon Monday, probably the most important marathon Monday in the history of the marathon.  After the bombings last year, this was a true test of everyone's physical and emotional strength.  Last year, I had made plans to take my husband and step-son to cheer on the runners since neither of them had ever done that.  We spent some time at the halfway point in Wellesley with the intention of then going to the finish line.  I was trying to locate a good friend who was running for the Dana Farber team and who was wearing my mom's name on her bib.  I never found her and because we stayed longer than expected, we made the decision not to go on to the finish line.  Thankfully, when the bombs went off, we weren't there.

This year, it was very important for me to return to the halfway point to cheer on the runners.  I knew several people running this year, but there were two people in particular that I needed to support, Kim and Rachel.  Kim was the friend who I never made it to see last year.  She actually never completed the marathon; she was forced off of the course around mile 20.  When that happened, she also had to deal with the fact that her entire family was at the finish line, her three children and her husband, and she could not get in touch with them or even get close to find out if they were all ok.  My friend Rachel, who I met several years ago when we were placed as roommates at a creativity workshop in Italy, did not run the marathon last year, but she was at the finish line.  She also was Martin Richard's 2nd grade teacher.  This year, she was determined to run the marathon, her first ever, with Martin's spirit pushing her all the way.
I saw Rachel run by, and I shouted, "You rock Rachel!"  I was so proud of her for everything she had done this year leading up to the marathon.  The smile on her face and the thumbs up she gave me told me that she was absolutely going to cross the finish line for Martin and his family.  I waited to see Kim who I thought would be coming by pretty soon after Rachel.  I waited and waited and no Kim.  I decided that I would wait 5 more minutes before leaving for an appointment.  Then, over the hill, I saw Kim and her husband walking towards me.  I ran onto the road to give her a hug and she started to cry, saying that she was having a bad running day.  Kim has run several other marathons, but I know leading up to this one, she had been dealing with some medical issues.  I also knew that crossing the finish line this year was very important to her.  I hugged her again and thanked her for what she was doing; it didn't matter if she was having a bad running day.  I knew she was going to cross that finish line.  As I watched her walk away, I saw her start to run again.  And several hours later, Kim crossed the finish line.

Speaking of marathons...we are in the home stretch of our school year marathon.  Now I have never run an actual marathon, but I did complete a half marathon a few years ago.  And let me tell you, those last 2 miles were a killer!  So now we are racing to finish this school year, and I know that you will all cross the finish line in June.  It is important to finish strong.  Just like in those last 2 painful miles of my half marathon, you don't want to be counting down to the last day.  You have to continue with the pace you have set for yourself and your students.  You don't want to rush through these last few weeks.  Think back to the routines that you set in place with your students at the beginning of the year.  Make sure you are still following through with those routines that have allowed for students to learn and grow.  Like my friend Rachel, make sure to remind yourself why you teach everyday and who you are running this school year race for.  And like my friend Kim, remember that there will be bad teaching days, but don't let them stop you.  Keep going.  Make sure that in these last few weeks that you take care of yourself.  Runners need those water stops and snacks along the way; educators also need to make healthy choices for themselves so they can be their best for their students.  This past week has reminded me that I need to take my own advice and make smart choices in order to finish this race.  I could get only a few hours of sleep a night, not exercise and make poor eating choices, but then what kind of shape is that going to leave me in to do my job of supporting you and the students?  I could also let my time get swallowed up by meetings and paperwork, but I know I need to be interacting with all of you and with our students.  We all have to take each day one day at a time and not just focus on the finish line.  There is still so much that we need to do, so much learning that needs to happen with our students.  

I promise you that if you stay the course, you will cross that finish line.  I look forward to running and cheering alongside all of you these last few weeks, but most important, I look forward to celebrating a well-run race as we all cross the finish line together.  And that feeling at the finish line that you get when you know that you have helped each child in your class grow and the impact you have had on them...that makes the hard work and the struggles along the course of this school year so worth it!

Currently reading:
Over the break, I was busy reading lots of different books.  My Goodreads account reminds me of my lofty goal to read 200 books during 2014.  So far I am only up to 35...I need to keep reading!  A few picture books that I read during some quiet office hours:
And as I was organizing my home office and some of my bookshelves...I reread this book that our nieces gave us at our wedding reception.  They thought they were very creative for changing the character name to my name.  My husband was not too happy that his character was a lazy slug! ;)

Currently, I have too many chapter books going at once!  Need to focus on finishing one at a time.  Since Mrs' Potter's class is beginning an historical fiction unit of study, I started ready When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.  
And since Mrs. Fournier's class will be doing biographies soon, and for something lighter, I am reading Who Was Elvis Presley?

Events this week:
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!  I am sure the PTA will be showing their appreciation of you all week.  Thank you for all you do for our students!
Monday - Welcome back!
Tuesday - Wendy Frank will be leading some poetry workshops in two 3rd grade classrooms in the morning.
Wednesday - Eric Carle program will be happening in kindergarten classrooms.  Roundtree, Mills and Coronis will be having MS transition meetings.  FR and SU lab teachers will be meeting with Joia.  School Committee Meeting @ 7:00 in the HS library.
Thursday - Curriculum half day of school, Wendy Frank will be leading some poetry workshops in two 3rd grade classrooms in the morning.
Friday - 2nd grade Eyes on Owls program

Check it out:
Here's a little motivational video clip to get you pumped up for the final stretch!

And in case anyone was wondering if my reading addiction runs in the are 3 of my nieces enjoying some time at Barnes and Noble!  Love my little readers!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What did I learn at the MRA Conference?

Principal ponderings...

On Thursday, I attended the Massachusetts Reading Association Conference in Quincy.  The focus this year was on technology and literacy.  One thing I thought about while I was at the conference was that next year, I would like to have more opportunities for our staff to attend conferences and workshops.  I sat with a friend from another district who was there with a large group from her district.  They had received a grant that paid for all of their registrations.  I am hoping to apply for some grants so that we can send more people to conferences.  There is so much that we can learn from keynote speakers, panel discussions, presenters, and simply talking to people from other districts!

The keynote speaker on Thursday was Lucy Caulkins.  She was certainly my main motivation for attending this conference!  Lucy spoke to a packed crowd about teaching writing, in particular, teaching persuasive and informative writing.  Some key quotes from her that I took away:
"We need to be looking at student work, not to figure out which student is a good writer and which student is a bad writer.  We need to be looking at student work to figure out how we are doing as teachers."
"What is the promise that your district gives to the kids as writers?  We need whole schools to think about how to raise a writer, instead of classrooms working in isolation." (Once we have a stronger foundation in our building in regards to how we raise readers...our next step will be to look at how we are raising writers...needs to be a joint effort from each grade discussing and collaborating.)
"You don't need to wish your problems away; you can write your problems away."

Lucy shared several ideas and had us all practice at our tables talking about planning out our writing to get more details.  She shared with us samples of student writing from kindergarten up through 5th grade.
Some thoughts that I had while listening to her...
  • Loved her idea of having a 'chew and chat' session during snack time.  This could be done at all levels.  Give the kids something to discuss.  In kindergarten or 1st grade, you could have placemats at kids' tables or desks and the placemats could have different quadrants that would guide an opinion discussion.  For example, you could have the different seasons represented and the kids talk about which one they like the best and why.  
  • Or what about having kids bring in a collection of something from home, like maybe they have several action figures.  They could rank the items and talk and write about why one is the best one, why one is the worst one, etc.  
  • Have students go on a walk around the school and identify issues or concerns and then they can write about things they notice and want to change.
  • I thought it would be a good idea to think about kids writing up some quick persuasive pieces to read over morning announcements...there is a purpose and an audience that could be very motivating!
I wanted to share with you a site that Lucy Caulkins was encouraging educators to take a look at.  It's called  She is part of the committee that created this site for teachers to have a forum and share their thoughts about the various standardized tests, like PARCC, being piloted across the country.  I recommend you take a look and see what others are saying or even share your thoughts on the site.

I attended another speaker session that was led by Nancy Boyles.  She was a dynamic speaker who has written several professional books.  Surprisingly, I don't own any of her books, but I have borrowed them and read them.  Don't worry, I will probably be ordering her newest book! ;)
Nancy went through the anchor standards for ELA and shared ideas of how to address them using various picture books.  I got a handout from her with lots of titles that I will hopefully be able to purchase for our school library and our shared lit collection.  Several people in the audience also shared some great titles to use.  As Nancy said, "Start with a good book, and then you can do so many things with it."

Some of the break out sessions I attended focused on how different schools have been using technology to enhance their literacy instruction.  Everything from using Google docs to have kids collaborate on the revision process to using an app called BookCreator on the iPad to create nonfiction books full of different text features to having 1st graders blog in their classroom using KidBlog to kindergartners creating graphic organizers using an app called Popplet.  Lots of great ideas that I hope we will be able to try out with our students.

The closing speaker was an author named Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  She discussed the process she went through to write and create her award-winning picture books.  Here's a shot of some of her books:
She was amazing to listen to.  I found a clip of her explaining all of the thinking that went into creating her book, Bully.  It's a good reminder that you can get so much out of a picture book...even one that has very few words!  

And here is a great video clip of kids talking about her books:

Currently reading:
I have not mentioned any picture books in a while so let me tell you about two great books that I borrowed from Mrs. Fulreader and read recently.  The first one is called Spoon.  It's an adorable book about a self conscious spoon who is jealous of forks and knives and all they get to do.   Love the picture of spoon's family!

The other book I read was called Zero.  In this book, Zero wants to be like the other numbers and tries to change himself.  But in the end, he realizes how valuable he really is!

Events this week:
A short week before vacation begins!
Monday - Passover begins
Wednesday - Safety drill today, 3rd grade chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym, Staff meeting @ 3:30, Multi-age informational night from 6:30-7:30
Thursday - Early release day, parent conferences in the afternoon
Friday - Good Friday, No school
**Enjoy a well-deserved vacation week.  Get's full speed ahead to the end of the year when we return from break!  And something to look forward to when you return...Teacher Appreciation Week!

Great things I noticed last week:

  • 3rd graders got to dress up in costume as they took a walk back in time to the American Revolution.
  • 4th graders demonstrated their knowledge of simple machines by creating and presenting at the Invention Convention.  One student certainly had an appropriately timed invention that helps you dye eggs without getting your fingers stained.  And another student used her invention to make pouring your breakfast cereal a little easier.
  • A student in Mrs. Guernsey's class used a chromebook to take a quick pre-assessment on measurement using Quia.
  • A first grader in Mrs. Cragg's class was going back into a book he had already read, preparing for some partner work where he was going to direct a partner to act out an important part of the story.
Check it out:
One teacher who presented at the MRA Conference (and is also one of our parents) shared some information about how her class is following the Out of Eden Walk.  This is a 21,000 mile walk that one man is doing over seven years.  He is retracing 60,000 years of human migration.  The sites that have been set up to follow him on his journey were originally set up for middle and high school students, but there are many ways that you could share this with our elementary students.  This is one more way to bring the world to our students by connecting through technology.
Hmmm...are we underestimating the math abilities of our kindergartners? Here is an article to make you think:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Pitter, patter, what's with all this Twitter chatter?

Principal ponderings...
Twitter is...
"A minute-by-minute pulse of the education world."
"An amazing resource for personalized and professional learning!"
"A platform for reflective teaching and for sharing your expertise."
"A constant source of new ideas to explore."

But I realize that for many teachers this is something that is: new, scary, overwhelming, exhausting.

However, I am going to continue to push people to check it out, try it out, set up an account...

Here are some interesting visual stats about Twitter:
And here some examples of how I have interacted on Twitter:

So now if you are ready to give Twitter a's a cheat sheet for you!

Currently reading:
I am still working on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  I started reading a book recommended to me by Mrs. Potter.  It's called The Reason I Jump.  Definitely seems like an appropriate book to read during Autism Awareness Month since it is described as "the inner voice of a thirteen-year-old boy with autism.

Events this week:
**Scholastic Book Fair will be going on all week at the Middle School!  Be sure to submit your wish list to get books added to your classroom library!
Monday - 4th grade will be participating in the NNAT testing in their classrooms
Tuesday - Datashredder container will be emptied today.
Wednesday - 3rd grade chorus practice in the gym @ School Council Meeting @ 3:30 in the office, Middle School Orientation Night @ 6:30, School Committee Meeting @ 7:00
Thursday - Book Fair Family Night @ 6:00-8:00
Friday - 3rd grade Hands on History presentation in the PAC @ 1:00

Great things I noticed last week:
A big thank you to our literacy-minded parent and volunteer, Jill Pierantozzi for organizing this year's Community Reader Day!

We had lots of visitors on Thursday, including our outgoing interim superintendent, Dr. Bent, and our incoming superintendent, Dr. Rodriguez.  Here are some pics from some of the visits:

Check it out:
Sue Weeks has been helping us create an Amazon wish list site that contains books we want donated to the school library.  We will send this out to parents and post it on our website.  Please take a look at the lists and send me recommendations you have for books you would like to see added to the list.

**I have ordered several bins for classroom libraries.  Please send me an email if you are interested in some bins.  I have 2 sizes, one set that is chapter book size and one that is picture book size.

Even though March Madness is winding down...I thought this was a great idea to get kids talking about books:
You could do a bracket with books that you have read to the class throughout the year.  Fun!

And to make you laugh on this Monday morning...