Sunday, April 26, 2015

Showing Up

Principal ponderings...

Eight weeks is all that is left of this school year.  Eight short weeks.  As the weather becomes nicer and the countdown until summer vacation begins, it becomes a little bit harder to focus on the task at hand...providing the best education every day for our students.  The first step is showing up.  There are days when our substitute list is frighteningly long.  My goal is that we finish out the school year with staff present every day.  It was a tough winter with lots of us battling colds and the flu.  Let's hope that we can all finish the year healthy.  The only way we can do what's best for kids is by being present, being in front of them, showing up every day to teach them and to learn with them.

But we need to do more than show up.  While the first step is being here, the more important step is being here for them.  Our students need to know that we are here for them, we are supporting them, we want to see them succeed, we have high hopes for them.  We need to always remember that we are here for them, not the other way around.  They are not here for us.  They deserve to get 100% from us.  Yes, we need to do more than just show up during these last eight weeks.  I would say we should strive to finish even stronger than we started.  In a post last year, I mentioned some amazing brain research that proved that in only 5 days of intervention work with a student, the brain can actually be changed!  Lucky for us, that means we can do so much more in the last eight weeks.  We can keep changing brain matter!

How will you make sure that you stay focused on this task?  Set some high goals for yourself.  Maybe there are some students that you have not connected with as much this year.  Make those connections happen over the next few weeks.  Maybe there are some students who are still struggling with the curriculum.  Figure out how to get through to them in these last few weeks.  Maybe there are some parents that have not followed through with helping their children.  Reach out to those parents and continue to try to bridge that home school connection.  Maybe there are students who have met benchmark.  Push them to go beyond that.

The first step is to show up every day.  That's the easy part.  But we know we need to do way more than just show up.  How will be here for each and every one of your students during these last eight weeks?

Currently reading:
Since I took the week off, I had more time to do some reading of the new books that I purchased at the book fair.  I loved Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library!  It's a great book to get kids talking about reading, book titles and the library!  Kids who read this book will enjoy the clues and puzzles that they have think about to try to help the characters solve.
I also started reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.  It is the author telling stories of her childhood.  The book is written as a series of poems about different experiences in her life as she grew up in both Ohio and South Carolina during the 1960s and 1970s.  So far, it is a phenomenal read.  Here's an example of one of the poems in the book where she is talking about  her sister:

                            the reader

                            When we can't find my sister, we know
                            she is under the kitchen table, a book in her hand,
                            a glass of milk and a small bowl of peanuts beside her.

                            We know we can call Odella's name out loud,
                            slap the table hard with our hands,
                            dance around it singing
                            "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain"
                            so many times the song makes us sick
                            and the circling makes us dizzy
                            and still
                            my sister will do nothing more
                            than slowly turn the page.

Events this week:
Monday - Author visit (see schedule listed below)
Tuesday - Curriculum and Instruction strategy work day
Wednesday - 4th grade canoe trip presentation at the PAC @ 10:00, Kindergarten chorus practice in the gym @ 2:25
Thursday - 2 students will be 'Principal for the Day' (winners from the holiday fair), K & 1st grade Buddy Bench presentation in the gym 9:30-10:00, 2nd-4th Buddy Bench presentation in the gym 10:15-11:00
Friday - 2nd grade Eyes on Owls program @ 9:30

Schedule for author visit:
9:30-10:20 - 1st grade/half day K in the PAC
10:30-11:30 - 2nd grade in the PAC
12:40-1:20 - full day K/half day K in the PAC
1:30-2:45 - 3rd and 4th grade in the PAC

Great things I noticed last week:
Mrs. Lanctot's class was working together to clean up a space outside of their classroom where they can do some reading outside!

  • The 3rd grade teachers tried out a great reading activity.  They had their students choose a book to read and discuss in a book club.  The book clubs were made up of students from different classes.  Each teacher oversaw different book groups in their room so they actually got a chance to have many different students from other rooms come into their classrooms.  Ask a 3rd grade teacher about what they did...would be a fun way to do book clubs!
  • SU and FR teachers came together for a joint staff meeting to begin looking at potential new math curriculum.
  • Several of the 4th grade classrooms hosted an invention convention in their classrooms to demonstrate their inventions that utilized simple machines.  I am always amazed at the ideas that come in each year!

Check it out:
Loved this graphic that I came across:
And here is a great video clip about an interesting design concept for kindergartners in Tokyo:

Interesting post about a teacher deciding to not thrust her rules on students, but to have students be a community of learners who decide on consequences together:
Are you still not convinced about the benefits of Twitter?  Then read this:

Sunday, April 12, 2015

I Hope You Never Lose Your Sense of Wonder...

Principal ponderings...

Do you know that song by Lee Ann Womack, "I Hope You Dance"?  After listening to a great presentation by Stephanie Harvey Friday morning at the MRA Conference, I can't get some of the lyrics from that song out of my head.  Lines like "never lose your sense of wonder" and "never settle for the path of least resistance" go along with the message Stephanie tried to get across in her keynote address.  Her topic was "Comprehension, Collaboration and Curiosity: 21st Century Skills that Matter."  I had the pleasure of listening to Stephanie Harvey speak several years ago when she came to speak in Westborough to the entire district.  She was a great speaker then and is even better today! She is definitely passionate about kids and comprehension.  As one of the attendees stated, she's "my kind of people!"

The first part of her presentation focused on the idea that we need to stop driving curiosity out of kids.  Stephanie made the point that our kindergartners come bursting in curious, we definitely don't need to teach them.  Think about our K and 1 students.  Have you had a conversation with any of them?  They are full of questions, always thinking and wondering about the world around them.  But as our students move up through the grades, by the time they graduate, it's like we have squeezed every last drop of curiosity out of them.  Just this weekend, I was talking with my niece, a 6th grader.  Besides the fact that she informed me that they never read in school and have only read two books this year (eek!), when I ask her about school and what she is learning about and doing in school, there is no excitement, no looking forward to new discoveries.  Has she already lost her sense of wonder?

Here's an interesting statement to ponder from Stephanie: It is not "the more kids learn, the more they know."  It is now "the more kids learn, the more they wonder."  She shared a quote from EB White which is so powerful for all kids: "Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder."  In order to help our students not lose their sense of wonder, we have to make sure that we are living a curious life.  Are you living a curious life?

Another message that Stephanie presented was the fact that content changes.  She made the joke that she was really bummed that Pluto got demoted as a planet.  Content is always changing and we have to accept that and prepare our students for an ever-changing world.  We are responsible for getting kids "college and career ready", yet we have no idea what careers we are preparing them for because they are careers that we don't even know yet...they don't exist yet.  And of course, in true Stephanie Harvey fashion, she finished her presentation with a simple statement: give kids a chance to read everyday!

I want us to help our students keep their sense of wonder.  And now I have a little being who I hope will always be full of wonder:
So a challenge for all of us is how do we keep that kindergarten curiosity in all of our students?

Currently reading:
For those of us bookaholics...last week was double trouble.  I went to the book fair and walked out with a new pile of books.  And then when I was at the MA Reading Association Conference, I left with a bag full of books.  One of my newly purchased books that I read was called Three Hens and a Peacock by Lester Laminack.  I was lucky enough to be buying the book right when the author was standing next to the display and he autographed my book for me!  Yep, I do consider children's book authors famous and autograph worthy!  Great read aloud book.
Another awesome book I read is called The Pigeon Needs a Bath.  Such a fun book that will make kids of all ages (and adults!) laugh out loud.
One of the speakers at the conference was Jon Scieszka.  I bought his book Knucklehead which stories from the author's childhood.  I was laughing so hard my cheeks were hurting when Jon spoke so I am sure his book will make me laugh out loud while reading it.

Events this week:
**Teacher Appreciation on the lookout for surprises from the PTA
Tuesday - School Council Meeting @ 3:30
Wednesday - Library Fund Committee Meeting @ 8:15, Grade 1 ELA meeting @ SU 9:00-11:30, Grade 2 ELA meeting @ SU 12:45-3:15, Abe Lincoln presentation in the PAC 9:30-10:30 Grades 1 & 2, 10:30-11:30 Grades 3 & 4, 4th grade Invention Convention 2:15, Grade 3 chorus practice @ 2:25, Combined staff meeting with SU @ 3:30 in the library
Thursday - Half day, 12:15 dismissal, Staff luncheon provided by the PTA
Enjoy the vacation week!

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Ms. May was talking to kindergartners about being "considerate"...quite a big word for some of our smallest members!  Unfortunately, this is Ms. May's last week interning with Mrs. Cahill.  We are going to miss her!  We have certainly appreciated having her help us solve problems with students.
  • Mr. Wiesner and this 4th grade class were improvising with a variety of instruments when I walked into class the other day.  And it sounded amazing!
  • I did not have my camera with me to snap a photo, but I did manage to walk into Mrs. Potter's class during the end of a simple machine invention presentation.  One student was demonstrating her machine which helped squeeze the toothpaste out of the tube.  Her motivation for making the machine?  Her little sister who usually makes a mess of the toothpaste!
  • Our half day K students are really jazzed about reading.  They see themselves as readers and enjoy spending time reading from their book bags.  If you get a chance, pop by Mrs. Spiczka's classroom and ask any student to show off their reading skills!
  • Thanks to a grant from GDEF, several FloRo staff members were able to attend the MRA Conference on Thursday and Friday.  I never managed to get everyone together on Thursday for a group photo, but here is the Friday crew.  Ask them about what they learned at the conference...I know they will be excited to share with you!
Check it out:
Just discovered this great infographic...certainly could have used it during my presentation the other day at the conference!
And here is a great post which builds on the idea of growth mindset, thinking about characteristics of an innovator's mindset:

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Communication Connection

Principal ponderings...
(**Someone suggested I call this my try again Tuesday you go...)
When I moved to Massachusetts 15 years ago, one of the first things I did was take the MTELs so I could get a teaching job here.  I remember worrying about them because everyone said they were difficult.  One of the essay questions for the special education test stated that communication was very important and asked you to write about how you could communicate with parents of children with special needs.  Can you believe how easy that question was?!

Fast forward to today.  Clearly the state still understands the importance of communicating with families of all students since one of the four standards for the evaluation process focuses on family and community engagement.  I will still give the same answer that I gave 15 years ago.  How we communicate has not really changed.  We can call and talk to parents over the phone.  We can schedule face to face conferences them.  We can send email updates.  We can write in communication notebooks.  We have many ways to get in touch with parents of all students.  While the answer to that prompt has not changed over the years, the actual act of effectively communicating with parents is no easy task.

We are entering into a time of the year where we begin to hear from parents.  Report cards are being viewed.  Parents are coming in for conferences in a week.  The placement process for next year is beginning.  As the principal, I speak with parents every day.  I am able to work on honing my skills because each day I get to practice.  Some days it is a positive experience and other days I know I still need to work at it.  You want parents to be on your team instead of playing for the opposite side.  Be proactive. The more effectively that you communicate with parents, the more it will benefit you in the classroom.  

Keep practicing your communication skills.  Make that communication connection with parents.  How will you utilize communication to help foster a strong home school communication?

Currently reading:
I checked out some books from our school library to read this weekend.  I read one called Begin at the Beginning.  This is a book written by Amy Schwartz.  She is one of my favorite picture book authors, and this one was about a girl who has trouble getting started on an art project.  Another book I read was called Pie in the Sky by Lois Ehlert.  I loved the paper collage illustrations in this book, plus it had my favorite pie in it, cherry pie!
 I also read another favorite author, Tomie Depaola.  I read Stagestruck.  Tomie's stories are always enjoyable!
Events this week:
**Book Fair all this week at the middle school
Tuesday - Dr. Rodriguez visits FR in the am
Wednesday - Incoming new family tour @ 2:00 led by the PTA, 3rd grade chorus practice @ 2:25, Information Night for incoming 5th graders @ PAC at 6:30
Thursday - Liz and several teachers at MRA conference, Evening Book Fair Event @ 6:00
Friday - Community Reader Day!  Liz and several teachers at MRA conference

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Grace shared with me how great reader's workshop is going in kindergarten.  I have seen K students shopping for books in their book bags, turning and talking with partners, and really excited to read!  Love seeing the K students catch the reading bug!
  • Sue shared with me how awesome some 3rd graders are doing with the fractions unit.  Students who normally struggle have been receiving in class support and are thriving!
  • This adorable little kindergartner brought me some "brownies" on April Fool's Day.  She thought she was so funny!
Check it out:
Check out this list of must read education books for 2015:
A post about laughter and learning: