Monday, October 27, 2014

Teaching Kindness

Principal ponderings...

Hopefully by this point, every adult in the building has had a chance to read the book, Each Kindness. I'm also hoping that all of our students have either had the story read to them or they have read the book themselves.  Just recently, I read the following blog post from Edutopia:

Here's a quote from the blog that discusses the ability of kindness to actually change your brain:
"Kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness. Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness is best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it."
And here's another older blog post which contains a video clip about the 'Finding Kind' documentary, a look at the history of girls being mean to each other.

As I have been researching this concept of teaching kindness, I came across this youtube clip about a Kindness School.  The school is built on the concept of teaching kindness first and then students naturally want to develop themselves academically.  It's a quick clip, but it certainly gives you a lot to think about.  I especially love the project they did of putting positive notes in library books!

I am going to start adding some messages about kindness to our morning announcements.  I have also thought about putting a box in the lobby for students to drop of random acts of kindness that they noticed and we will announce those.

What ideas or projects have you been doing with your classes or what are you thinking about doing?

Currently reading:
I know I talked about it last week, but I just have to repeat that I loved reading Kate DiCamillo's book, Flora and Ulysses.  Feel free to come borrow a copy for your classroom!  Today, I read the book White Fur Flying.  This was a quick read, but a great story that has some great character development and an interesting story line to discuss.  Thanks to Grace, Mark and Laurie for recommending this book!
I am still reading Capture the Flag by Kate Messner.  I also starting skimming through a book I picked up at our book fair, Real Talk for Real Teachers.  It is by Rafe Esquith, and I enjoyed reading his other book Lighting Their Fires, so I thought this advice book for teachers would be a good read. 

Events this week:
Monday - Liz at DESE Summit for the day, Latin Class @ 3:30
Tuesday - District tech team will be in our building to provide tech support from 11:00-1:00, Latin Class @ 3:30, Spanish Class @ 3:15
Wednesday - Library Fund Committee Meeting @ 8:30 in the library, 4th grade chorus practice at 2:25 in the gym, School Committee Meeting @ 7:00 (School Improvement Plans presentation), Round Table Discussion on mental health at the Black Box @ 7:00
Thursday - Curriculum Half Day, dismissal @ 12:15, Spirit Day - 'Dress Like a Book Character' Day!
Friday -  Happy Halloween!

Great things I noticed last week:

  • FloRo and Swallow Union teachers came together for some great math discussions during our half day; actually our discussions were about math discussions!  Have you tried out any talk moves or strategies with your class yet?  1st and 2nd grade teachers learned a new place value game that they can play with their students.  And 3rd and 4th graders took a practice PARCC test and discussed how they will begin preparing their students for this new online assessment. 

  • I love getting mail from students!  This week I was excited to receive a letter from a group of 1st graders.  They were asking me to come read to them, which of course I did after reading their letter.  I told them that I loved the compliment in the letter; they told me I was "the best reader in the whole wide world!" :)
  • Loved seeing some book recommendations posted in the library!
  • I noticed some great teacher collaboration this week.  Mr. Coronis's class invited Mrs. Mills' and Mrs. Volpe into their classroom.  Then the adults modeled what a book talk looks like.  They were discussing White Fur Flying. (Which was why I was motivated to go and read that book this weekend!)  They demonstrated how a book talk flows and how the people involved really build off of each other.  The students commented on what they noticed during the talk.  How great to bring students from different grade levels together!
  • And on Sunday we had a beautiful fall day for the Halloween parade in the center of town.  I was a surprise evil purple minion from 'Despicable Me'...and got to ride in a convertible with hundreds of kids following behind!

Check it out:
Google random acts of kindness or search that topic on youtube...see what you find!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Celebration Post: 50th Post and 5,000 Pageviews!!

Principal ponderings...

I am very excited to be typing this post knowing that it is my 50th blog post on this site and I have also just reached 5,000 pageviews!  I am celebrating the fact that I have been able to share my thoughts with so many of you, both the staff at my school and people outside of our school who have checked out this blog.  I'm even more excited that over the past year and a half, what I write on this page sparks conversations in our hallways, offices and classrooms about various education topics, best practice, books, math lessons, basically anything related to how we can impact student learning.

I want to thank all of my readers!  Thank you for taking the time to read what I write here.  I still have a lot to say and share so I hope you will continue to read these posts.  Writing this blog has become something that I look forward to and something that continually reminds me why I love my job.  I love being part of a profession that is constantly learning, growing and impacting others.

Here's a short video clip that I may have posted before, but it seems to sum up the difficult and wonderful job that we have as educators:

And I will leave you with this great poem that I came across this weekend, called "The Invitation."  The poet is reminding us that we can't be small in the universe; she is inviting us to not only show up in the universe, but, more importantly, make the most out of our lives.  I plan on accepting her invitation.  How about you?

The Invitation

It doesn't interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon...
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if have been opened
by life's betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn't interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

--Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Currently reading:
I started reading Kate DiCamillo's new book, Flora and Ulysses.  What a great book!  Even love the description on the book jacket: "a laugh-out-loud story of friendship, hope, love and seal blubber."  The characters that Kate develops in this book are fabulous, and she uses some truly unique descriptions and vocabulary.  I think this would make a great read aloud for 2nd, 3rd or 4th grade.  I have a few copies of this book, so let me know if you want to borrow it.
I'm also just starting to read Kate Messner's book, Capture the Flag.  This is another book on the MCBA list this year.

Events this week:
Monday - Happy National Day on Writing!, Latin Class @ 3:30
Tuesday - Latin Class @ 3:30, Spanish Class @ 3:30
Wednesday - Grade 2 chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym
Thursday - Curriculum half day, dismissal at 12:15, Teachers will be spending the afternoon
at SU, 1:30-4:30
Friday - Liz and Dianna at SLT meeting at Prescott in the am

Great things I noticed last week:
  • On our curriculum day we all learned from the very important suicide prevention training.  Then Dr. Novak shared a great presentation with us about text based writing.
  • We had several great breakout sessions at our Wednesday staff meeting: reader's workshop discussion, childhood trauma presentation, talking with the SPED dept, and social skills discussion with guidance.

  • Two of Mrs. Roundtree's 4th graders led the pledge at School Committee meeting Wednesday night, and then they shared their favorite subjects with the committee...writing and science!
  • I spent time in each 4th grade classroom talking to the students about our new Student Council.  They are all excited to apply to be a member of the council.
  • Mrs. Clark's class was eager to try out come challenging math problems!

Check it out:
I like this blog post about what kindergartners know about being a writer.  I would love to ask our students what they know about being a reader and record their answers.
Great article about "teaching between desks", a practice in Japan known as kikan-shido.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

That was then, this is now OR Thank you dad!

Principal ponderings...

Recently, I have had friends or family members come up to me and either ask about is going on with math in schools or more often, I have had them vent to me that they don't like what is going on with math in schools.  Everyone keeps talking about how they just don't get this "new math."  Or they are struggling to help their children with math homework because they do not actually understand the homework themselves.

This made me think back on my experiences with my father and math.  I am realizing now that I think my dad was ahead of the curve.  (Dad, if you are reading this, don't let it get to your head!) I can remember in 2nd grade I really struggled with understanding greater than and less than.  I just could not comprehend it.  So I would ask my dad for help on my homework.  Back then, math homework was always the same.  All of the odd problems on a page the one night and then all of the even problems the next night.  Actually, that was my homework from elementary all the way through high school.  So my dad would start to help me, and he would begin by explaining the concept and then it would turn into why I needed to know this concept in order to understand the next level up, like if I could figure out that 5 was greater than 3, then eventually I would be able to determine that 3+2 was greater than 2+1, and then I would be able to figure out that x + y was greater than 3. Meanwhile, all I heard was wah wah wah wah know the Charlie Brown teacher?  And I would repeatedly say to my father, or actually yell at him, "I don't need to know why, I just need to know the answer to this problem!"

Now, 30 some years later, here I am, explaining to family and friends that we want our students to know why 5 is greater than 3, not just that the answer is 5 > 3.  My dad was not teaching me "new math" back then.  He did not have a Common Core crystal ball that showed him what the future of math would be.  He understood that in order for me to truly learn these math concepts, to truly understand the purpose behind all of those practice odd and even questions...I needed to be able to explain my thinking.  I needed to be able to make sense of number sense.  I needed to be able to break numbers down and build them up.  But what I was taught, what most of us were taught, was to simply memorize steps and move on.

How did I move up the math ladder?  Well, I was a good student and I memorized individual steps and I aced tests.  And then I moved to the next math class and did that all over again.  I got to my senior year, and I remember being excited that I didn't need to take a math class.  So for my last year of high math for me!  And that meant no more of the same conversation that I had been having with my dad for almost 10 years!  And then I went to college and tested into an advanced Calculus class...not really sure how that happened.  What happened during my freshman year?  I just about flunked out of the class.  Talk about a total shock to my system.  I was a student who got all A's.  I learned what the teachers taught me and then I spit it back on a test no problem.  Suddenly, I had to supposedly apply all of these concepts...even from way back in 2nd grade, greater than and less than...and I had to actually think for myself to solve problems and I had to explain my thinking and I had to actually demonstrate higher level math thinking in a lab once a week.  All of my "hard work" and completed homework assignments and perfect tests scores...well they amounted to nothing in that college course.  I was not prepared for that class.

So my answer to friends and family that, this is not "new math."  Having kids solve thousands of problems by simply memorizing steps will not allow them to independently think on their own and demonstrate critical thinking skills.  The research shows us that if kids are taught concepts, the why of math, they will retain the information much better.  Clearly, what we were teaching before, how we all learned math, has not worked.  As a country, we have consistently scored well below other countries who have taken a more conceptual approach to teaching math.  This is why the Common Core standards have been put in place.  Why would we keep using a method of teaching that was not effective?  I wish I had had the opportunity to learn math the way our students are learning it now.

And to my father I say, "Sorry dad.  I should have listened to you."  But I get it now, and I can't help but smile when I find myself saying to a student...don't you want to know why this is the answer? (And the voice in my head have become your father!)  I may not have been able to admit it back then, but now I can say were right dad!

Currently reading:
I am almost finished with When Life Gives You OJ.  Thank you to Laurie and Diane for encouraging me to stick with it and not abandon the book.  I am also still working on our admin book chat book, Primal Leadership.  I did just pick up a copy of Belly Laughs by Jenny McCarthy.  Now that I have made it to the third trimester, it's definitely necessary to be able to laugh about some of the wonderful (or not so wonderful) things that happen during pregnancy.
I also read another good picture book that I purchased from the book fair.  It's called If Kids Ran the World.  In this book, if kids really did run the world, then it would probably be a better place for adults!

Events this week:
Monday - Columbus Day, no school
Tuesday - Curriculum Day 8:00-2:00
Wednesday - Star Lab for 3rd grade, Staff meeting @ 3:30 in the library, School Committee Meeting @ 7:00 at the HS
Thursday - Lockdown drill @ 10:00, ***Literacy Collaboration Meeting at Tyngsborough Elementary School has been postponed until a later date, PTA meeting @ 7:30 in the FloRo cafeteria - Dr. Rodriguez will be the guest speaker

Great things I noticed last week:
  • Mrs. Wenz's class was doing lots of writing! 
  • Mr. Wiesner was working on pitch with a 3rd grade class. 
  • Mrs. Harper was working with a group of students as they expanded their vocabulary, learning about nouns.
  • Dr. Rodriguez came for a visit and enjoyed stopping off in Mrs. Taylor's kindergarten classroom.  She even got a 'Pete the Cat' hat!
  • Mrs. Hoke's student teacher, Ms. McElroy, spent Friday afternoon playing a math game with 2nd graders to help them learn their doubles strategies.

Check it out:
Here's a great video clip of Kate DiCamillo speaking at the 2014 National Book Festival:
I follow this librarian's blogs and he recently posted a list of his favorite books from 2014:
Here is how Twitter has had an impact on one teacher's professional growth:
Love this list that an administrator posted-what we should see happening in classrooms!:

And after a day that seemed more like summer than fall, I will leave you with this poem that I came across in my readings...

September Tomatoes
by Karia Borowicz

The whiskey stink of rot has settled
in the garden, and a burst of fruit flies rises
when I touch the dying tomato plants.
Still, the claws of tiny yellow blossoms
flail in the air as I pull the vines up by the roots
and toss them in the compost.
It feels cruel. Something in me isn’t ready
to let go of summer so easily. To destroy
what I’ve carefully cultivated all these months.
Those pale flowers might still have time to fruit.
My great-grandmother sang with the girls of her village
as they pulled the flax. Songs so old
and so tied to the season that the very sound
seemed to turn the weather.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Students

Principal ponderings...

It was the best day of school, it was the worst day of school, it was a time of learning, it was a time of struggle, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, one student had all sorts of opportunities in front of him, and one student had nothing positive to look forward to.  This is the tale of a typical school day for two very different students.
One student started his day when his mom woke him up and had breakfast waiting for him at the kitchen table.  She reminded him that he had soccer practice after school and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead as he walked out the front door, down the driveway and hopped onto the school bus. His good friend was already on the bus and had saved him a seat.
Another student started his day by getting himself up, throwing on a shirt that was wadded up on the floor.  His mom, who worked second shift, was still asleep.  He found one pop tart and took a bite while he watched TV by himself.  When the bus honked, he ran out the door, forgetting to grab the rest of the pop tart, and the field trip form he was supposed to get signed.  The only seat left was with a student from a younger grade who he did not know.  While he was looking to see if there were any other seats, the bus driver yelled at him to hurry and find a seat.
After a fun bus ride with his best friend, the first student arrived at school in a good mood.  As he walked to his class, several teachers looked him in the eye and said good morning to him.  His teacher was waiting for him at the door, smiling and welcoming him into the classroom.  She even remembered to ask him how his soccer tournament went over the weekend.
After a tough bus ride with a younger student who kept annoying him so much that he finally yelled "leave me alone" and the bus driver reprimanded him, the second student arrived at school hungry and in a bad mood.  He bumped into a couple students as he walked down the hall and a teacher stopped him and made him apologize, even though he did not do it on purpose.  When he finally got to the classroom, his teacher was talking to another student.  The other students were either unpacking their things or visiting with each other.  No one even noticed him or acknowledged him as he made his way to his seat.
During writing, the first student was excited that he had his soccer tournament from the weekend to write about.  It was his first tournament, and he had lots of good details to add to his story.  Because he had so much to say in his writing, his teacher even asked him to share some of his story with the rest of the class at the end of writer's workshop.  He got to sit in the author's chair and everyone was eager to hear what he had written.  Several students complimented him on his descriptions.
During his writing class, the second student sat and listened to his stomach growl.  He wished he had eaten more of his pop tart that morning.  His mom had worked extra shifts during the weekend, and she was too tired to do anything with him.  So he spent his weekend watching TV.  That was not a very exciting topic to write about.  He stared at a blank page until his teacher came up behind him and startled him when she told him to get something on the paper.  He wrote the words 'this weekend' and then retraced them several times with his pencil.  When it was time to share, he still had a mostly blank page so he did not get selected to share his story with the rest of the class.  He never got to share.  It's not like anyone cares about what he has to say anyway.

You could probably write the rest of the tale of these two students.  Same grade, same school day, but clearly very different experiences.  I was thinking about the quote that I shared with you at the beginning of the school year:

“Students learn better when they are challenged, have choice, feel significant, 
receive feedback and know they matter.” @sjunkins
In particular, I was focusing on the part about students feeling significant and knowing they matter. How we respond to students, how we interact with them each day, how we see them (or don't see them) has a major impact on their learning.  Would you be worried about the first student's learning? Or would you be worried about the second student's learning?  How many kids have a day everyday like the second student?  How do we make sure that we truly see all of our students each day? Because if one student thinks they do not matter to us...then learning most certainly will not happen.  

What will you do today to make sure that all of your students feel significant and know that they matter to you?

Currently reading:
This past week I listened to the book Still Alice during my drive to and from school.  This was a poignant book that certainly brought me to tears a few times.  (Of course, the whole pregnancy hormone thing makes me cry as well!)  It's the story of a woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease.  While it is a tough book to read or listen to, I definitely recommend it.
After visiting the Scholastic Book Fair last week, I now have some new titles to add to my reading list.  I enjoyed reading a great new picture book by Brian Lies: Bats in the Band.
I'm also excited to read one of Cynthia Lord's new books, Shelter Pet Squad: Jellybean.  Seems like this will a good new series for our 2nd and 3rd graders.
I'm still reading When Life Gives You O.J.  Having a little trouble getting into this book, but I'm not ready to abandon it just yet.  And I reread Each Kindness the other day.  This is our book that the entire school will be reading.  Please make sure to read it and/or read it to your students.  We will begin with some book-related activities in a few weeks.

Events this week:
Monday - Latin Class @ 3:30
Tuesday - Dr. Rodriguez visits the school in the am, 3 4th grade classes on field trip to Mt. Wachusett, Spanish Class at 3:15, Latin Class @ 3:30, School Council meeting @ 3:30
Wednesday - School Picture Day!, 1st grade library field trip in the pm, Liz out of the building at MCAS-Alt training
Thursday - 2 4th grade classes on field trip to Mt. Wachusett, 1st grade library field trip in the pm, Spanish Class @ 3:15
Friday - Para meeting at 9:00 in the staff room

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Teachers looking at our Tell Mass results and brainstorming ways to improve as we move forward.
  • Teachers talking about ideas they have for activities related to the book Each Kindness.  Can't wait to see everyone's ideas come to life as part of 'One School, One Book!'
  • Indoor recess means I get lots of great letters from students!
  • Mrs. Guernsey's class did some experiential learning with the 3 Sisters' Garden in the front of the building.
  • Mr. Crowley was conferring with several different students during Reader's Workshop.  He made sure to meet them wherever they had chosen to read and documented the conference using an online form.
Check it out:
October 6 marks the start of the Global Read Aloud project which goes until November 14.  I'm still waiting on the Peter Reynolds author study books to come in, as well as The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  Check out the main site for ideas:
Also, if you are on twitter, be sure and use #GRA14 to connect with others participating in the global read aloud!

Looking for a twitter chat to listen in on or try out your tweeting skills?  On Monday nights there is a regular twitter chat called #tlap.  It was inspired by the Teach Like a Pirate book.  Join other passionate teachers who want to improve their professional practice at 9:00 Monday night.  Even if you can't stay up for the chat, you can always look up the hashtag and read what people have been talking about!

Even though this article is a little long, it's an interesting look at what interactive writing can look like for our 2nd through 4th graders, especially how it can be an effective way to meet the Common Core literacy standards: