Sunday, September 28, 2014

Cupcakes and Collaboration

Principal Ponderings...

Everyone needs an activity that relaxes them and makes them happy.  For me, that activity is baking. Actually baking cupcakes to be exact.  After a packed weekend up in Maine at a wedding, I decided to pull out my mixer and bake.  As I was measuring and mixing the ingredients, I started to get some inspiration for my blog post.  I was thinking about how it always amazes me that when you combine just the right ingredients, you end up with something that is not only completely transformed, but delicious!

And this led me to think about collaboration.  Collaborating is a lot like baking cupcakes.  As educators, we are the ingredients.  Whether you are flour or sugar or eggs, when you work in isolation, you can't be more than just who you are.  And so your students get one level of teaching.  But when we collaborate, when we mix together, a little bit of flour, sugar and eggs...then we can transform our teaching and take it to another level.  After spending some time with many of our grade level teams this week, I enjoyed watching teachers observe each other and then listened to them share ideas with each other and plan on how they would implement what they had learned from peers into their classrooms.

Of course, baking cupcakes is not always easy, and neither is collaboration.  You have to get the right combination of ingredients.  And you have to have the correct ingredients to start!  I had made my cupcakes and was about to start making the frosting when I realized I did not have enough of one ingredient for my frosting.  So I had to trek out to the grocery store...the last thing I wanted to do on a Sunday night.  Collaboration, like baking, takes work.  Sometimes, you have to figure out how to work with each other.  Sometimes you figure out how you want to work together, and then the end result is not what you expected or wanted.  Sometimes you have to try different ways to collaborate and that takes time.  We just need to remember that the process may be difficult, but the end result, student learning that is a product of teacher collaboration, is well worth it.

Speaking of collaboration...I have been meeting with Scott Middlemiss from Tyngsborough and David Hill from Dracut.  We have been planning for a year of literacy collaboration.  We are three districts that are working with TLA and focusing on our reading and writing instruction.  Since we are geographically fairly close, we thought it would be great to start up a collaboration between our three districts.  We would like to create and develop an inter-district network to continue and enhance the learning and professional development taking place in our separate schools.  We have discussed ways to allow teachers to network and collaborate on what they have learned as a result of working with TLA.  We would like to meet as a group at least once month after school, alternating between locations, discussing literacy instruction and best practices.  Ideally, teacher partnerships will develop as a result of these informal meetings.

Our first meeting is scheduled for Thursday, October 16 at 3:30.  The first literacy collaboration meeting will take place at Tyngsborough Elementary School.  Mark it on your calendar and let's get excited about collaboration!  If anyone wants to carpool with me, let me know.

Currently reading:
I finished reading Little Book, Lost this weekend.  This is such a great book!  It's one of the MCBA books, but it would make for a good read aloud for our younger students as well.  Sticking with the dog theme, I immediately picked up When Life Gives You OJ.  This is another book on the MCBA list, and it is about a child that wants a dog.
I also read a cute picture book called Dear Tabby.  In the book, all sorts of critters write letters to Tabby and she gives them advice.  The whole book is written as a serious of letters that the animals write to each other.  
Events this week:
Monday - The Scholastic Book Fair will be taking place all week next door at the middle school.  Be sure and check it out! After school Latin class from 3:30 to 4:30
Tuesday - After school Latin class from 3:30 to 4:30
Wednesday - 4th grade extra chorus practice @2:25 in the gym, Staff meeting @ 3:30 in the library
Thursday - PTA Evening Book Fair Event

Great things I noticed last week:

  • 1st-4th grade level teams had a chance to observe Reader's Workshop in lab teachers' classrooms and then debrief with Joia.
  • We had our first bus open circle meeting!  Teachers, bus drivers and students talked about what was going well on the buses and reviewed expectations.

  • Mrs. Cragg was doing a nonverbal imitation game to keep her students calm and quiet while waiting for everyone to finish at the bathroom.
  • Our 'One School, One Book' books arrived!  Get ready to talk at our staff meeting about all the activities we will do with Each Kindness.
  • Mrs. Fulreader led a training for our parent volunteers who will be helping out on the playground and in the cafeteria.  We had parents playing switch and four square and enjoying some hot chocolate and baked goods!

Check it out:
Interesting blog post about leveling your classroom library:

Love this twitter post I came across...Reading is...

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Let's Talk about PARCC

Principal ponderings...

Several of you had a chance to come to one of the sessions last week where you got to try out some of the PARCC practice tests.  I plan on using some of my blog posts over the next few months to gather PARCC information in one spot for you.  This is a big change, and I want make sure that we are taking time to talk about it, read about it, figure out together what this means for our instructional practice.

Here are some of the facts about PARCC and the timelines:

  • In grades 3-8 across the state of MA, 40% of the schools will still be doing MCAS this year.  60% will be switching to the PARCC
  • High school students will continue to take the MCAS this year.  The Science MCAS will also still be administered.
  • PARCC stands for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
  • The following are the states that are part of PARCC: Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island.
  • PARCC is a computer-based test, although during the beginning stages some districts will be doing a paper-and-pencil version.  We are using the computer-based test.
  • PARCC will assess writing at all levels, unlike MCAS which only assesses writing at grade 4, 7 and 10.  With PARCC, students will be writing in response to reading or writing to a source.
  • After the completion of the two year pilot of PARCC, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote in the fall of 2015 on whether PARCC will be fully implemented.
  • There are 2 summative assessment components: Performance-Based Assessment (PBA) and End-of-Year Assessment (EOY).
  • PARCC was designed to assess whether students were on track for college and career and has been aligned to the Common Core Standards.

PARCC will assess key shifts in mathematics standards:
Test administration window for Performance-Based Assessments for schools doing computer-based testing (both English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics) - March 16 - April 10

Test administration window for End-of-Year Assessments for schools doing computer-based testing (both English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics) - May 4-May 29

Monday night on Twitter PARCC will begin hosting "office hours".  Here's a good place to see what questions educators have, ask questions and share resources...
 Here is a quick 6 minute video clip that was created last year and tells you a little bit about the design process and reasoning behind PARCC:
Here is a link to a frequently asked questions page:

Here is a link for the resources for educators page on the PARCC website:

Currently reading:
I was very excited to get an autographed copy of The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm in the mail last week!  I won it just by commenting on a blog post.  There are lots of people that run contests on their blogs and give away free books.  I am always entering, but this was the first time I actually won!  This is one of the books that is part of the Global Read Aloud this year.  It was a quick read that incorporated science into the plot and explores the idea of creating a way to never grow old. I just started reading Little Dog, Lost which is one of the books on the MCBA list.  It's a book written in free verse form.
And since I am a member of ASCD, I just got a new professional book in the mail that I will be checking out.  It's called Sparking Student Creativity:Practical Ways to Promote Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving.

Events this week:
Monday - SAFE House and the Groton Fire Department will be here all week.
Tuesday - Trimester 1 Bus Meeting at 9:20
Wednesday -
Thursday - Bus evacuation drill in the morning, Informal curriculum chat with Dr. Novak @ 3:15 in the library
Friday - Book Fair Preview for the teachers (11:30-1:30), Scholastic Rep with be there along with snacks!  If you can't go over during that time, Joelle can be there either before or after, just let Liz know.  Remember that you get to select $20 worth of books!
**On Friday, during 3rd and 4th grade lunch, the Harlem Wizards will be in the cafeteria to talk to the students while they eat.
Saturday - The Joseph Middlemiss Superhero Rock n' Roll Run @ 10:00, Harlem Wizards game at the high school @ 6:30

Great things I noticed last week:

  • We had a successful first fire drill on Friday.  Everyone got out of the building quickly and quietly, and I don't think I saw any tears or meltdowns!
  • Grace shared some interesting MCAS data with the staff and discussed how our ELA student growth and achievement looked.
  • Mrs. Fournier's students showed me what kind of class they are: Awesome!  I did a book chat with them right before they started to have a discussion about creating a buzz around books.
  • We tried out a new format for staff meetings where staff had a chance to select two different sessions to go to during the afternoon.  Teachers gave lots of positive feedback about this new format!
Check it out:
An interesting read about how teachers can help students find the beauty in math:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Forget great, let's go for grit!

Principal ponderings...

We all want to be great educators.  We want to teach great lessons.  We want our kids to be great students.  We want our school to be known as a great school.  But I am thinking that what we really need to do is replace some vowels; we need to replace great with grit.  What does grit mean?  Well when you look it up in the dictionary it says "courage and resolve."  I personally like many of the synonyms that are associated with grit: determination, perseverance, endurance, tenacity, and my favorite, spunk.

Check out this video called: Teaching Grit Cultivates Resilience and Perseverance
And here is a 6 minute Ted Talk of Angela Lee Duckworth discussing the key to success...grit!
So we have the difficult task of teaching our students to be gritty.  But I think that before we can teach our students to be gritty, we need to learn how to be gritty educators ourselves.  As Angela says, this process of being gritty is not a sprint, it's a marathon.  It's not about spending three days in a row planning the ultimate unit or being a superstar teacher for one lesson on one day.  We have to be setting goals that we are going to stick with for the long run, for the month, for the trimester, for the year.  There are no get grit quick plans.  Things will not go as planned.  Lessons may not work like we envisioned.  But if we are going to be successful as educators, we need to stick with it.  We need to persevere in order to teach our students perseverance.  Go ahead...set some gritty goals for yourself.  How will you show tenacity?  Remember, it might mean that you need to be ok with something not working the way you planned.  It might mean that you need to scrap your original plan and try something different.  It might mean stepping out of your comfort zone.  Because becoming a gritty educator means being unsuccessful this week knowing that in the long run you will be successful.  

Here's a quick interview with the author Kate DiCamillo where she talks about how she learned to persevere:

Ask this the thing that I am supposed to do?  If teaching is what you are supposed to do, then you cannot give up.  Don't worry about being great this week; go be gritty this week.

Currently reading:
I finished reading Bigger Than a Bread Box this weekend.  I think it might be a book that some of our 4th graders would enjoy reading.  Even though the main character is 12 years old, what she experiences as her parents go through a separation is something that several kids can relate to.  I started reading on of the new MCBA books, The Friendship Matchmaker.  So far it's a quick read and a good lesson on making friends by just being yourself.
I have also been reading more of Primal Leadership.  A quote that stuck with me from the chapter I just read: "...institutions that endure thrive not because of one leader's charisma, but because they cultivate leadership throughout the system."  I did some more reading of Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  I had read some if it last year, but realized I needed to pick it back up and finish it.

Events this week:
Tuesday - Announced fire drill @ 10:15
Wednesday - 4th grade instrument demo in the PAC @ 10:00, Staff meeting @ 3:30
Thursday - Bus driver training in the cafeteria @ 9:15, Elementary only half day, 1:15-3:30

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Ms. Hoke's class talked about choosing 'just right' books.

  • A second grader enjoying some quality, comfy independent reading time!
  • Curriculum Night was a huge success!  Teachers did a great job educating parents about what curriculum looks like at each grade level.
  • 1st graders in Mrs. Wilkin's class playing plus or minus 1 Bingo!
  • Family Fun Night was tons of fun!!
Check it out:
Read this short post about keeping the kindergarten spirit:
A great post about looking for the small wins in the beginning of the school year:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Time Keeps on Ticking...into the Future

Principal ponderings...

My Sunday morning left me thinking about the passage of time and how that relates to our job as educators.  My day started much earlier than I would have liked, but my sister was in the hospital with her new baby, Lily, and no one was around and she wanted to fill me in on my niece's first 24 hours of life.  After that conversation, I went for an early morning swim.  Of course, on a Sunday morning, the average age in the pool is about 79.  As I eased into my lane, there was an elderly man in the lane next to me, probably 84 years old, looking slightly grumpy.  He said to me, "Don't worry.  I won't get in your way."  I laughed and said, "I'm not worried."  Then he said, "It must be nice to be young."  I didn't really have a good response for him so I started to swim.

As I was swimming, I  thought about the old man's comment of it being nice to be young.  I thought about my brand new niece who was not even 48 hours old.  I was thinking about how quickly she will become a one year old. I thought about our first graders who will turn into high school students before we know it.  I thought about our 4th graders who will become us in a blink of an eye.  Yes, it is nice to be young, but unfortunately, it goes by too fast.  As everyone has been turning in their schedules, I can't help but think about how quickly time passes, making it even more important to remember that we need to make every moment count.  We have the difficult task of educating our students while only having them with us for a very short time.  You might remember this quote from the beginning of last year:
So I will remind everyone to make every moment matter for your students.  Make sure that what you have planned during your different blocks of time is something that is purposeful and meaningful for your students.  Don't let time pass too quickly for your students with meaningless activities or pointless time fillers.  Time already goes too fast, let's not make it go faster.  Every second matters, so make sure you make those seconds count for your students.  We don't have them for very long, soon they will be moving onto the next grade, graduating, starting a career, and eventually standing in the shallow end at the Y, doing underwater leg lifts.

Of course, I also thought about the old man's first comment to me: "Don't worry.  I won't get in your way."  As educators, we need to make sure we don't get in our students' ways.  At our first meeting this year, I shared a quote that I will be referring to a lot this year: 

“Students learn better when they are challenged, have choice, feel significant, receive feedback and know they matter.” @sjunkins

Not getting in the way of students seems to go along with the first part of the quote.  We need to make sure all of our students are challenged.  And that might mean that we need to step out of the role of leading our students and let them lead us through the learning process.  If we aren't challenging our students, then we are impeding their learning.

After my swim, I headed to Wegman's to do some shopping.  Well, to be honest, all that thinking about time passing made me think about the jellybean video clip I shared with you.  And Wegman's has jellybeans in bulk!  Here's the clip again in case you needed some motivation for today:

Currently reading:
This week I started reading Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder.  Interesting book about a young girl who discovers a magical bread box that grants her wishes.  She is struggling with her parents' separation and living with her grandma.  I am also listening to a new book on tape: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.  It's about underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants.  The author does a good job of challenging our thinking in regards to obstacles and disadvantages.  I also read another book in the Gooney Bird Greene series: Gooney Bird is So Absurd.  I sent a question to the author through and here is her response to me:
Liz Garden asked Lois Lowry:

What was your inspiration for creating the character of Gooney Bird Greene? Love the books and plan on encouraging my teachers to use them during writer's workshop, also good for our character development unit of study in reader's workshop!

Lois Lowry My own childhood memories inspired the GBG books. As a shy child I so envied those classmates who were self-confident and popular

Events this week:
Monday - International Literacy Day!
In 1965, UNESCO declared September 8 International Literacy Day (ILD) in an effort to focus attention on worldwide literacy needs.
"Lift Off to Literacy," IRA's theme for 2014, inspires students to reach for the stars. On September 8, 2014, launch your students' literacy habit by devoting an additional 60 seconds of literacy activities each day for 60 days. Celebrate ILD and share the message that developing a habit of reading, writing, listening, and speaking leads to lifelong literacy success.
Tuesday - Dr. Rodriguez will be visiting FloRo in the morning, Liz will meeting in Tyngsborough at 3:30 w/Scott Middlemiss & David Hill to plan for literacy collaboration, Room Parent Mtg @ 7:30
Thursday - Curriculum Night: 6-7 grades 3-4, 7-8 grades K-2 
Friday - iPass bio-verification forms due back, Dianna and Liz at SLT meeting at Prescott from 8-11, Welcome Back Party from 4:00-6:00

Great Things I Noticed Last Week:

  • Mrs. Lanctot's class was learning about their classroom community and having their first open circle.  Her class even made their own lego creation to represent their community!
  • 2nd graders in Mrs. McEvoy's class were modeling for each other how to 'turn and talk' as part of their reader's workshop launch.
  • Mrs. Benkley's 2nd graders spent some time deciding where they wanted to do their independent reading time in the classroom.
  • Mrs. Cahill's bulletin board reminds us that it's ok to make mistakes...embrace failure...remember it's what helps us learn!
Check it out:
Donalyn Miller's recent blog about no more language arts and crafts:
Ways to create a classroom of writers:
How to learn?  From clip:
And here's a funny song re-write by a teacher, good for the beginning of the year...

Monday, September 1, 2014

Embracing failure

Principal ponderings...
Nobody likes the F word.  Over the years, failure has certainly been given a bad rap.  Typically in school, we think about there being only one right answer.  But in the real world, failure is a part of life.  In the real world, when something goes wrong, we learn to persevere, to change our thinking, to be more flexible.  When students are taught that there is only one answer and only one way to get to that answer, then they learn to fear failure.  This year, it is our job to teach our students to embrace failure.  
Take a look at this short video clip from Khan Academy that Mrs. Potter found called "You Can Learn Anything":

Isn't this a great message for us to share with our students?  We all had to learn how to talk, learn how to walk, learn a new skill.  And we all failed before we succeeded.  So let's look at it a different way now.  Let's say that we are learning when we fail.  Let's call it brain development instead of failure.  In a book called Save Our Science, the author says, "Scientists fail all the time.  We just brand it differently.  We call it data."

We need to remember that there have been lots of famous failures.  Ever read a John Grisham novel?  Did you know that his first novel was rejected by 16 agents and 12 publishing houses?  When Thomas Edison was a kid, he was told by his teacher that he was too stupid to learn anything.  Maybe that was why he tried 10,000 different materials before he found the right one for the light bulb filament.  Basically, in his mind he learned 9,999 ways that did not work.  He was failing...OR...he was collecting data and learning.  Walt Disney was fired by the editor of a newspaper because he apparently lacked in ideas.  Beethoven's music teacher once told him that he was a hopeless composer.  And you may have heard that Michael Jordan was actually cut from his high school basketball team.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.  Failure needs to be a part of all of our lessons and all of our activities.  Our students are natural risk-takers.  We need to keep encouraging them to take risks; we need to encourage them to go ahead and fail.  When they fail, their brains will grow and they will learn.  And isn't that what we want...learning?!  When we embrace failure, we will help our students grow.

So make sure you are asking your students: "How did you fail today? What did you learn?"

Currently reading:
I have been reading up a storm during the summer weeks.  I definitely had some catching up to do since the first trimester and the last months of school were exhausting times for me!  I just finished reading Water for Elephants.  I actually listened to it in my car; what a great book!  If you have not read this one yet, I highly recommend it as a good personal reading book.
I also just finished reading an MCBA book from several years ago, Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson.  Interesting book about hope and acceptance.  I really loved a lot of the author's ending sentences at the end of each chapter.
I just began reading Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence.  All of the administrative team is reading this book as part of our book study.  I'll let you know my thoughts once I've finished it.  Two picture books that I just read and recommend: Ish and Slugs in Love.
Cute book with slug poems in it!

Peter Reynolds is the author study for this year's Global Read Aloud!

Events this week:
Monday - No School!  Happy Labor Day!
Tuesday - Dianna and Liz will be reviewing cafeteria expectations during 2nd, 3rd, and 4th lunch
Wednesday - Dianna and Liz will be reviewing cafeteria expectations during 1st and K lunch, Staff meeting @3:30 in the library
Friday - Welcome Back Packet paperwork due to classroom teachers

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Students and parents arriving on the first day!
  • Mr. Coronis's class learning the difference between examples and definitions.
  • Mrs. Fournier's 3rd graders introduced themselves using math.
  • Kindergartners survived their first day of school!  (And so did their parents!)
  • Mrs. Fulreader talked with all of the recess blocks.  She worked with the students to review ways to be safe and have fun on the playground.
  • FloRo teachers and SU teachers spent time with Joia getting ready for reader's workshop this year.  Teachers received reader's notebooks that they can use throughout the year.

Check it out:
Here's a great TED talk to get you excited about math!
Here's a picture of your words that describe what learning means to you: