Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How do you know if it has been a successful school year?

Principal ponderings...

I was having writer's block leading up to writing this blog post.  So I took some time to read through several blog posts from a variety of educators that I follow.  A principal who I follow who also writes a weekly blog for his staff recently wrote about determining a successful school year.  His ideas helped me get over my writer's block!

We are down to the last few weeks.  Third and fourth graders managed to get through the math MCAS.  In another week, two of our third grade classrooms will pilot the end of year math test for the PARCC.  I just had a conversation with the other principals about when we will make the big leap from MCAS to PARCC for the whole district.  There are certainly pros and cons to consider when taking on a new assessment.  Whether it is the MCAS or PARCC, the big question is always going to be how much student growth happened over time?  And of course we want our students to be 'proficient' no matter what test they take, but I can't help wondering...if a student is not proficient, does that mean that student is a failure?

I was thinking about a student who I have been involved with since kindergarten.  He was a half day student so he didn't have as much time at school that first year.  But it was clear when he was here that he had not come to school with much previous support or education.  He had a difficult 1st grade year.  He quickly became known by his teacher and his peers as a behavior problem.  Forget about trying to have him make benchmark...we were just trying to get him to make it through a school day without being sent to the office, shutting down or getting kicked off of the bus.

When you have a student like that, whether he will be proficient or not on the MCAS, PARCC  or any other assessment...that is really the last thing on my mind.  I am always thinking how are we going to get this child ready for learning, because clearly he is not ready for learning yet.  Fast forward to this year, 2nd grade, and finally, we are seeing a child who is becoming ready to learn.  He has shown improvement on the bus.  He has actually had very few incidents of shutting down.  He has begun to show us what he knows and what he is capable of learning.  He is not a child that has a learning disability or one who needs special education.  Well...he needs special education of a different kind.  He needs teachers who will care about him.  Teachers who will not give up on him.  He needs special attention by the guidance counselor and the principal and assistant principal.  Will be make benchmark by the end of this year in math and reading?  I don't know.  So do I consider that a failure?  Absolutely not.  He is a success.  This school year has finally been a successful school year for him.  Will he be proficient on the MCAS or the PARCC next year?  It's hard to say...considering all of the holes in his foundation, it's not likely.  But if he continues to have teachers who believe in him and encourage him to grow not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well...then he will be a success story.

We live in an education world that measures success by academic growth.  I do agree that we need to do that.  However, not every kid is going to be proficient.  We certainly need to strive for that for all of our students, but there are going to be students who are not proficient or who do not meet benchmark by the end of the year.  We can not give up on those students.  Student growth comes in all forms, and that is how we determine if it has been a successful school year.

Think back to a student you have or have had in the past.  How did you make their life better during the school year?  Did you imagine what it was like to walk in their shoes?  Did you give them the love, support and patience that they needed?  If you made their life better, then I would say that was a successful year!

Currently reading:
Have to be honest...this week most of my time has been taken up with writing evaluations so reading has been put on the back burner.  My goal this week is to both finish evaluation writing and get back into my books!

Events this week:
Tuesday - Kindergarten screening @ Prescott 9:00-2:00, Grade 3 Chorus rehearsal 9:30-11:00
Wednesday - Kindergarten screening @Prescott 9:00-2:00, 3rd grade school chorus show @ 1:30, School Committee Meeting @ 7:00
Thursday - Kindergarten screening @ Prescott 9:00-12:00, Special Education teachers in a training from 9:00-11:30, Middle Assistant Principal talking with 4th grade in the cafeteria @ 1:20, Grade 3 concert @ 7:00
Friday - 3rd grade fire safety evaluations, Graduation at the high school @ 6:00

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Mrs. Benkley and Mrs. Maynard were trying out the new Safari Montage...a digital media management system.  They had an area that students were struggling with so they looked up the standard and were given lots of recommended video clips to show.  The whole class was very excited to watch and learn!

  • We were lucky to have Julie and Phyllis help us launch a new model for staff meetings...edcamp!  We had to do a shortened version, but it was still great to try out this new way to create your own professional development in the building.  Teachers were engaged in great conversations and learning from each other.
Check it out:
Read more about the idea of edcamp here:
And here is a long list of edcamps all over the country in case you want to check one out this summer!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Looking back and looking forward

Principal ponderings...

In the past, when I have worked with new hires and mentor programs in different school districts, I always do an end of the year reflection activity.  I'm not sure why I have only done this with new hires; I think it's a good activity for any teacher or specialist to do at the end of the year.  It's important to look back over the year and celebrate successes.  It's also important to look back and think about what did not go well, what you might do differently next year.  Here's a list of questions to help you start the reflection process.  I recommend you either sit with a colleague or maybe do this by yourself.  Read over the questions, think about them, you might even decide to write your answers down so that you have them handy when you start next year.  You definitely want to do this sort of reflection now while the school year is still fresh in your head.  Even if you jot a few notes now, you can always continue to think about your answers and revisit them often over the summer.

What are some things you accomplished this year that you are proud of?

What is something you tried in your classroom this year for the first time? How did it go?

What is something you found particularly frustrating this year?

Which student in your class do you think showed the most improvement? Why do you think this student did so well?

What is something you would change about this year if you could?

What is one way that you grew professionally this year?

What has caused you the most stress this year?

When was a time this year when you felt joyful and/or inspired about the work that you do?

What do you hope your students remember most about you as a teacher?

In what ways were you helpful to your colleagues this year?

What was the most valuable thing you learned this year?

What was the biggest mistake you made this year? How can you avoid making the same mistake in the future?

What is something you did this year that went better than you thought it would?

What part of the school day is your favorite? Why?

What were your biggest organizational challenges this year?

In what ways did you change the lives of your students this year?

Looking ahead, Grace and I have been talking about summer reading for our students.  Since we have worked on a new and improved look at reader's workshop, it only makes sense that we look at a new and improved process for summer reading.  Students have become invested this year in choosing what they will read during independent reading time.  If we simply give a list of book titles to parents, then we are basically going against what we have worked to create this year: students making their own choices about what they want to read.  Be on the lookout for more information about this, but the thought is that we would have student be involved in the process of generating a summer reading list that they have been able to create.  We are also looking at some ways for our students to use technology to rate, review and discuss books with other students as they read this summer.  We want to keep the good book discussions going all summer long!

Something else to think about for next year...
I would like for us to participate in the One School, One Book program.  That means we will select one book that every grade level will use as a read aloud.  The whole school will share in a common text that we will read, discuss, and enjoy together.  Here is the website that explains a little more about this program: http://readtothem.org/our-programs/one-school-one-book/  We will generate a list of choices and have all of the staff vote for one choice.  I will order the books this summer so that every classroom will have a copy.

Currently reading:
Been reading and discussing one of my favorite professional books for the moment: Comprehension From the Ground Up.  Thanks to Laura Taylor for leading some great discussions with kindergarten and 1st grade in her book study.  If you have not taken a look at this book, I have several copies that will be available for teachers to borrow and read.
I shared this beautiful book with the kindergarten team...All the World by Liz Garten Scanlon. (I did not buy the book because I liked the author's name!)  It is a wonderful book, with very few words, yet powerful message and beautiful illustrations.  It would be a great read aloud that I think would spark lots of discussion.  Let me know if anyone wants to borrow a copy.

Another book up for grabs in my office...Seeds of the Milkweed.  This is a Scholastic book that was written by 2nd graders from Arkansas.  Learn about how the milkweed fits into the monarch butterfly's life cycle.

Events this week:
Monday - Kindergarten field trip to Beaver Brook
Tuesday - Grade level literacy meetings: Grade 4 in the am, Grade 3 in the pm
Wednesday - Grade level literacy meetings: Grade 2 in the am, Kindergarten in the pm, 3rd grade chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym, Staff meeting @ 3:30
Thursday - Grade level literacy meetings: Grade 1 in the am, Blood Farm Fund Walk-a-thon, K-2 at 1:30, 3-4 at 2:00
Friday - Grade 2 field trip to Drumlin Farm, 3rd grade chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Mrs. Nissi was helping her students revise and edit some writing pieces as they published them in the computer lab.

  • Mrs. Wilkins's 1st graders were getting into the minds the characters in their books, thinking about how they would feel if they were the character.  First they did this activity with the book Noisy Nora, then they were able to go off and try it with their independent books.  I listened in on some of them reading, and it was great to hear a student say "Pay attention to how I read this part of the text."  She wanted me to see that she was reading with expression and she knew how to do it and why it was important to help her understand what she was reading.  Awesome!
  • Mrs. Hoke's 2nd graders were using their inquiry skills to determine how many marbles in a container as they weighed and compared their answers using a balance.
  • Mrs. Guernsey's 3rd graders were doing a special art project to go along with some artist research they were doing.  I saw some very talented artists and their masterpieces!

Check it out:
If you have not checked out this website... http://www.donorschoose.org/...well, then you should ASAP!  This is a site created specifically for teachers.  You can create a page that explains any sort of project you have in your classroom.  You ask for donations and then...people send things to you!  It is basically an online charity site for teachers.  People donate money and the site orders the materials and ships them directly to you.  It could be anything from books to iPads to indoor recess games.  Don't believe how easy this is?  Just ask Laura Taylor.  I told her about this site and I think in a few days she already had $275 in donations for her classroom library!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A little motivation for May

Principal ponderings...
Even though last week was teacher appreciation day, hopefully you all know that you are appreciated just as much on all the other days!  Here are some motivational images and video clips to inspire you this week:
This is a short video of teachers reading letters they wrote to themselves on the first day of school.

I think I posted this before, but it's worth watching again!

There is a really great website called www.teach.org and it has lots of videos to inspire you.  Here is one that shows parents and teachers talking about how important special education teachers are to students.

Now...who is ready to have an amazing week?!

Currently reading:
I pulled out some picture books from my shelves at home to reread.  The first one is a beautiful poetry book called dear world by Takayo Noda.
All of the poems in the book are written in the form of a child's letter to the earth.  And each poem is accompanied by these amazing cut-paper collages.  It's a great book to do a poetry writing activity that is in letter form, and then you can combine it with an art activity to pair with it.  Here is the first poem in the book:

       dear world

       please tell me
       why and how
       you grow
       delicious berries
       and fruit in the trees

       please tell me
       why and how
       you give
       sweet smells
       to the flowers

       please tell me
       why and how
       you change
       the colors of leaves
       in the fall

       please tell me
       why and how
       you keep our earth
       so beautiful

       please tell me

Another book I read is a wonderful non fiction book called Panda Kindergarten.  Those of you who know my obsession with panda bears know that I have a lot of panda books that I have acquired over the years!

I also read Falling for Rapunzel.  Love how this fractured fairy tale starts: "Once upon a bad hair day, a prince rode up Rapunzel's way."  This is a book that will have kids laughing out loud when they hear about Rapunzel not hearing the prince correctly and instead of throwing down her hair, she throws down everything from underwear to dirty socks to pancake batter!

Events this week:
Monday - Flyers and pledge sheets will go home today about our walk-a-thon to raise money for the Blood Farm Fund
Tuesday - Spring pictures!
Wednesday - 4th grade math MCAS, Grade 3 chorus practice @ 2:25, School Council Meeting @3:30
Thursday - 4th grade math MCAS, Grade 3 Plimoth Plantation field trip, PTA meeting @7:30
Friday - Supply budget info due to Carol

Great things I noticed last week:

  • The 4th grade was treated to an awesome assembly: Mad About Math!  It's so great to see someone celebrating how amazing math is, and it's even better to see kids get so excited about math!
  • Our school-wide jump rope assembly was fabulous!  The energy in the room during the morning assembly was electric!  Even I got to get in some jumping action.  But in the afternoon, Mr. Crowley was the lucky one who got called up on stage.  I loved Peter's message that we can all become champions as long as we practice hard.  On Friday, it was great to see several of the 3rd graders practicing their jump rope skills on the playground.
  • Some of us have been taking Laura Taylor's class that focuses on the book Comprehension from the Ground Up.  Here is a great visual that Laura has been trying out with her kindergarteners. Her students have been very good about deciding how they are doing with their reading stamina. Are you a superhero when it comes to reading stamina? ;)
  • 4th graders in Mrs. Clark's class were using similes, metaphors and alliteration, oh my!  Using the chromebooks, they were creating poems for their mothers.
  • Mrs. Potter's 4th graders were putting some muscle into their poetry project.  They were creating aged-looking holders for their poetry books using wax, paper folding, and an iron.

Check it out:

Wow, that's a lot of students that you are impacting!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Tempus fugit

Principal ponderings...

**I am writing my post this week from Virginia Beach.  I came home to Virginia for the weekend to surprise my mother.  My siblings and I had planned a retirement party for her, inviting students, parents, and staff from over the years to come and celebrate with us.  She was certainly surprised!  So I am dedicating this week's post to my favorite teacher, my mother.  Here is the speech I gave at her retirement party; luckily, my sister had brought a box of tissues for both my mom and me.

Tempus fugit.  For all of the Latin scholars in the room, and there are many of you here, time really does fly.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was 1989. I was a sophomore at First Colonial.  Phil was a pre-law kindergartner.  And mom had just accepted a part time job as a high school Latin teacher at Cape Henry Collegiate.  There were a lot of tears that week.  She would come home, cry to me, and say I don't know if I can do this...it's too hard.  And now, in the last few weeks, as this amazing teacher prepares to retire, there will be a lot of tears.  And she has said to me once again, I don't know if I can do this...it's too hard.  25 years have passed in the blink of an eye, so much has changed, but the emotional impact of the job is still the same.

Tabula rasa.  It was a blank slate when Magistra Medley walked into her classroom at CHC all those years ago.  From nothing, she created everything.  It did not take long for students and the rest of the staff to learn...Latin is not dead!  Whether it was the little Caesar character painted on her wall or movie quotes such as 'frankly my dear I don't give a damn' in Latin or her hands on activities, students in her class knew that a class with Mrs. Medley was not like any other.  She pushed the limits for sure...some of you may remember back in the early days of foreign language week...she erupted Mt Vesuvius in the hallway complete with falling down columns, sounds effects, strobe lights and dry ice!  Yes, she did set the security alarm off.  Once Mrs. Medley settled into teaching, Latin became alive in the upper school.  And over the years, the Latin program kept growing.  It spread to the middle school.  But that wasn't enough.  There needed to be a lower school Latin program.  In fact, I don't know if my nephew William realizes that next month his Latin lessons will begin.  Every preschooler needs to know the Greek and Latin roots of words right?  I'm fairly certain that my siblings and I were conjugating before we could walk.  Of course it wasn't just Latin that you learned about in Mrs. Medley's class.  A class wasn't complete if Mrs. Medley didn't step up on her soapbox and wax philosophic about politics, sports, or the 60's.

Carpe Diem.  Forget about just seizing the day, mom has always seized every single second of every day.  Magistra Medley started her career at CHC by teaching Latin, but she has certainly done so much more than that.  Who better to sponsor the Spirit Club than this spunky lady?  Education comes from the Latin e duco, to lead forth...naturally mom created the Peer Leaders program and eventually the Junior Leaders.  No swim team at Cape Henry?  She fixed that problem...she started the team.  A little known CHC history tidbit.  Did you know that this lady was once an assistant coach to the varsity boys basketball team?  Those were the power house basketball days of Ben Dease, Mac Brown and Alan Haynesworth.  Hurricane Katrina happened hundreds of miles away from the world of Cape Henry.  And mom decided that she just had to figure out a way to reach out and help a school that needed so much.  And of course she decided that it was not enough to send supplies down there, no, she needed to take students there and get them involved in doing good.  There is a great children's book called Wonder, and there are several great quotes in that book that make me think of my mother.  There is a line that says, "If every person in this room made it a rule that whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary - the world really would be a better place." That is a lesson that you won't find in any textbook, but it's a lesson that we all continue to learn from my mother every day.  If you scan through her Facebook news feed and you don't immediately feel uplifted by her daily inspirational posts then you either don't have a soul or you are my father.  In some classrooms it's about bringing the world to the students.  For Mrs. Medley it was about bringing Cape Henry students out into the world as evidenced by her numerous trips with students all over Europe.    I have listed only some of Mrs. Medley's accomplishments and activities, but if I went through every single thing she has done from teaching Russian to sponsoring the Japanese animation club...well frankly we don't have the room rented for that long.  Even though she will no longer be physically present in the school, her charitable spirit will live on at CHC in the form of programs she has initiated, most recent of which is the food pantry.

So now it's time for Mrs. Medley to begin packing up her books, her pink flamingoes and her Trojan horses made out of Popsicle sticks.  It might even be time for the chalkboard to come down.  Yes, she is one of 5 teachers on the east coast who uses actual chalk on a chalkboard.  Over the years, I have tried to bring her to the dark side of whiteboards or smart boards, but I believe her exact words to me were always "but I love chalk, there's just something about being a teacher and writing on the chalkboard."  Clearly I lost that battle.  It has been interesting this year.  While I am finishing up my first year as a school principal, my mom is finishing her last year as a teacher.  While she might not be in the classroom any more, she will never stop teaching.  She was teaching all of us before she came to Cape Henry.  And she will continue to be an advocate for education long after her retirement.  She has certainly inspired me in my career, and I know our phone chats about teaching will still happen.  I speak for our whole family when I say that we are grateful for all of you.  The Cape Henry students, parents and staff have been a part of our family for a quarter of a century.  I lost count of how many cupcakes mom has made, how many spaghetti dinners she has hosted at our house, how many costumes she has sown.  We are so glad that we have been able to share our mom, our favorite teacher, with all of you.  She loves all of you.  But I must say we are very excited that now we won't need to share her; it's time for us to be a little selfish.  It's time for her to travel, to visit with her children, to play guitar more, to read even more books, time for her to spend more time with Will, time to welcome another grandchild soon, oh and maybe time to watch The Price is Right with dad.  I will finish with another quote from the book Wonder: "The things we do outlast our mortality.  The things we do are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they've died.  They are like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs.  Only instead of being made out of stone, they're made out of the memories people have of you."  This room is full of memories of Mrs. Medley.  I would like to raise my glass to you mom.  You are an amazing lady who has done amazing things.  We are proud of you.  We love you.  Here's to the next phase of your life.  It's  going to be great.  Bona fortuna!

My question to all of you...what amazing things are you doing for our students today that people will remember in your retirement speech?  What lasting impact will you have on your students?

This sign hangs in the kitchen where I grew up.  My mother loves all things 'Wizard of Oz',
and I do have to say after my visit...there's no place like home!

Currently reading:
I brought several books with me for my plane rides.  I have been rereading Reading in the Wild in preparation for doing a summer book chat.  I just love this book!  I am also still reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.  Historical fiction is definitely a genre that I have to push myself to read; it's not usually my genre of choice, but I'm trying.  I am also still working my way through The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

Events this week:
Tuesday - 4th grade canoe trip
Wednesday - K chorus practice @ 9:30, 3rd grade math MCAS, 4th grade canoe trip, staff meeting @3:30 in the library
Thursday - 3rd grade math MCAS, 4th grade canoe trip, K-2 jump rope assembly @PAC @9:30, 3-4 jump rope assembly @ PAC @ 1:30
Friday - 4th grade Mad about Math

Great things I noticed last week:

  • We had several students participate in the Special Olympics last week!  Even though the weather was certainly not spring weather, the students did a great job and enjoyed themselves.  They were welcomed back to school by Mrs. Potter's class.
  • Kindergartners enjoyed a visit from teachers from the Eric Carle Museum.  The students were completely engaged in the story being read to them, and then they enjoyed creating some of their own designs.
    Blank pages before K students got their hands on them!

And after the K students started creating!
  • A first grader from Mrs. Wilkins' class invited me to come hear her read with expression.  She did a great job!
  • One of Mrs. Goddard's art students made me a very special piece of art work for my desk!
  • The first graders were treated to a visit from Animal Adventures.  They learned lots of new facts and saw some interesting animals up close.  Here is a picture of them learning about the bearded lizard.  Did you know they use body language to communicate how they are feeling?

Check it out:
Check out the fun videos that you can make with the Chatterpix app:
An interesting read: http://pernillesripp.com/2014/05/01/who-cares-about-reading-strategies/

And I found this quote on twitter.  Good for us to remember during these last few weeks...