Monday, November 30, 2015

Why Do I Lead?

Principal ponderings...

I know I have previously shared my education information addiction with you.  I have tried to get many of you to try out Twitter.  I have talked about making connections with a PLN group (Professional Learning Network).  I have shared blog posts written by other educators that I follow.  My newest social media addiction?  Voxer.  It's like a free walkie talkie that connects me with principals across the country.  I can record short messages and listen to messages from others.  One of the groups that I am part of is called 'Work. Life. Balance.'  And it is definitely a group I need!  Recently, an elementary principal from Iowa who is in the same Voxer group with me, shared this post with our group:

 20 Facts About Principals Every Teacher Should Know

There were several sections of this post that stuck with me, certainly some more than others.

#18...yep, this is definitely a stressful job.  There are days where I think about going back to just being responsible for my own classroom.  Or better yet, I think maybe it would be nice to become a toll collector.  I am grateful to my Voxer group that is helping me figure out how to bring balance to my life.  And you will probably be hearing more about what I am learning from our book chat about The Mindful School Leader.

#15...please, I hope that you can and will give me feedback.  I don't always have the answer.  I need to look at things from different perspectives.  Just like our students, I am here to learn and grow.

#12...I became a teacher because I wanted to have an impact on the students in my class.  I became an administrator because I wanted to have a bigger impact.  The only way for that to happen is for me to keep challenging all of you to continually grow and improve.

#11...My husband will often ask me..."did you get your work done?"  And my answer is always..."I got a lot done."  The reality is that my work is never done.  It is a demanding job, but it is one that I love and that is so worth it.

#9...Remember...I wanna marry mistakes!

#3...Yes, I am a slight control freak.  Need to work on that.  Especially since we have so many in our school that can be teacher leaders.  Must. work. on. delegating.

And #1...I want all of our students and teachers to be successful.  Being a principal is not an easy job ever.  I never know what I will encounter each day.  I have to make difficult decisions.  I have to rely on data to help with decisions.  I have to prioritize and work through my never ending task list.  But the stress, the long hours, the is all worth it because I get to see students making progress, learning growing.  It's all worth it because I get to see teachers making progress, learning, growing.

Why do I lead?  Because I know I am making a difference one student at a time, one teacher at a time.

Currently reading:
I finished up the graphic novel, El Deafo.  Let me know if you want to borrow it.  I know it would be a great read for our 2nd, 3rd or 4th graders.  I am currently working on Charlie Bumpers vs. The Teacher of the Year.  And I am still enjoying reading The Mindful School Leader.

Events this week:
Monday - Picture Retake Day
Tuesday - Dr. Rodriguez visits FR in the am
Wednesday - Half day dismissal at 12:15, evening conferences, dinner provided by PTA
Thursday - Half day dismissal at 12:15, afternoon conferences
Saturday - Holiday Fair!

Great things I noticed last week:
  • I caught some of our students studying the display in the lobby and grabbing some items from the cornucopia.  Thankful that we have such giving students and staff!
  • I walked into Mrs. Potter and Mrs. Smith's 4th grade class just in time to hear a lively debate sparked by something they had read in Scholastic News. 

  • Students were eagerly participating in morning meeting in Mrs. Robinson's classroom.
Check it out:
In my search for mindfulness...this Ted Talk is a step in the right direction:

Monday, November 23, 2015

We are Thankful

Principal ponderings...

Short work week this week, where many will be spending their evenings cleaning their houses and prepping for turkey day on Thursday.  At our last staff meeting, we started off by simply writing down on a slip of paper what we are thankful for.  And now in the office, we have a thank bank full of thankful thoughts.  Of course, this time of year, we all take the time to think about what we are thankful for, appreciate what we have, wrap our arms around our loved ones, and slow down to enjoy the moment.  We need to try to make sure that we do this more than just during this week of the year.

As I shared, the recent attacks in Paris hit close to home for me since one of my best friends lives in Paris with her family.  It was certainly a panicked evening for me as I spent time glued to social media, my only way to possibly communicate with her.  Thankfully, she sent me a message to let me know that she and her family were all safe.  She was supposed to go to that soccer match.  I am thankful that for whatever reason her plans changed.  That Friday evening scare made me pause and think about both the world we live in today and how grateful I am that my daily stressors are minimal compared to what my friend is dealing with all around her.

I wanted to share a list of what we as a staff are thankful for.  It's a good reminder of the good in our lives that we need to celebrate and not ever lose sight of.
We are thankful for...

  • working with dedicated, caring people
  • my job
  • a supportive family at home and at work!
  • a healthy body
  • my wonderful family
  • the wonderful staff at FloRo
  • being able to teach such kind and hardworking children
  • support of my family
  • supportive friends
  • my grade level team
  • paraprofessionals
  • a warm home
  • the love of my family (furbabies included)
  • devoted and accomplished colleagues
  • students that brighten my day
  • weekends!
  • my children
  • time to be with my family
  • that I have access to pursue an education to become a teacher
  • my ability to laugh and to make others laugh!
I hope you all have an enjoyable holiday break.  Happy Thanksgiving!  How will you slow down, take a deep breath and be mindful of the good in your lives?

Currently reading:
I am enjoying listening in my car to The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop.   This is a good book for fans of books like Harry Potter and The Magic Thief series.  It's full of kids, magic and chocolate!
Just read a cute picture book about friends called Friendshape.  It uses some shapes to talk about what is great about having friends.  
Another book that I just checked out from my local library is called Rufus, the Writer.  This picture book tells the story of a little boy who opens up a story stand instead of a lemonade stand.  He shares some of the stories that he writes for his friends and family.
I also started reading another MCBA book: Charlie Bumpers vs The Teacher of the Year. 

Events this week:
Monday - Reminder that you should be done entering your report card info today!
Wednesday - Half day of school, 12:15 dismissal, no lunch served
Thursday - Happy Thanksgiving!  Enjoy time with your family and friends!
Friday - No school

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Two of Mrs. Clark's 4th graders did a great job representing Florence Roche Wednesday night at the School Committee Meeting.
  • Mrs. Kavanagh's kindergarten class invited me to come hear some of their writer's workshop stories.  They have been doing a great job adding detail and telling their story across several pages.
  • Thanks to all of the staff for supporting our first bus open circle meeting.  We had a great turn out with many of the bus drivers participating in our morning meetings.
  • Love this display I found outside of Mrs. Pierantozzi's classroom.  Have you set any reading goals for yourself?  And have you shared your reading goals or reading plans with your students?
Check it out:
Kate DeCamillo talking about her memories of being read to:
Interesting post about music and arts integration helping the core subject areas:
A post about how to make a kid hate reading:
And a picture of my brain! :)

Monday, November 16, 2015

One Sheet of Paper and 15 Minutes?!

Principal ponderings...
'Tis the season for report cards and parent conferences.  You've been doing everything you can to educate each child in your classroom, and now you have to figure out how to let parents know all about their child on one page front and back and in 15 minutes face to face.  Is that even possible?  I would say no.  Hopefully, report cards and parent conferences are not your only interactions with parents.  Over time, report cards and parent conferences have stood out as the main communication with parents.  We all know that's not true.  But that doesn't change the fact that you need to present parents with an outline of their child through the report card and then in 15 minutes give them the complete picture.

Sorry if I am painting a bleak picture for you.  But I know this is the reality you are all facing over the next few weeks.  I remember those conference days all too well.  It was like an assembly line, one parent in, one parent out, one parent in, one parent out.  Never enough time to give my full attention to each parent and share what I wanted to share about their child.  I was thinking about the next conference while I was in the middle of the current conference!  So what is the best approach to parent conferences?

First, I would say that you should have already been in contact with all of your parents.  You don't want your first interaction with a parent to be a rushed 15 minute conversation.  Hopefully you were able to start the year with a positive phone call or email home for each child in your class.  And then if you have had an concerns or information that you felt necessary to share with parents, then you have already done that.

Second, I used to give out a little sheet before my conferences that simply asked parents what their concerns were or what they wanted to discuss.  Some years I found that I was prepping lots of information about a child's reading, when in actuality all the parent wanted to really talk about was how they were doing socially...were they making friends and interacting with peers?  If you can give parents an opportunity to give you a heads up about what they want to focus on, you can save yourself a lot of preparation time.  This could be a form that goes home or it could actually be a Google form that you send through email and then collect all the info in one place on line.  It is helpful to know the agenda that parents are walking into the room with because it could be different than your agenda.

Third, let it go.  No, I don't mean start singing the Frozen song.  I mean you need to accept that fact that you won't be able to cover everything that you may want to talk about in a 15 minute time slot.  You definitely want to plan ahead and be mindful not to overload yourself with conversation topics.  If you did not find out what the parent wants to talk about in advance, then ask them.  It needs to be a conversation that they feel part of, not a one-sided, rapid-fire lecture from the teacher about their child.  If you had planned to discuss three things and only get to one, let it go.  Don't let yourself get stressed about not being able to talk fast enough.  Remember, the parent conference should only be one small part of the home/school communication connection.

Fourth, be sure and take notes.  Parents may share information or ask for follow up about something, and you are should not think that you will remember what was said at a 5:30 conference after you have 8 more conferences that follow that one.  Take notes for yourself and then after conferences are all done and you give yourself some recovery eat and sleep!...then go back to your notes and think about how you will use that information or how you will follow up with that parent in future communication.

Fifth and final for now, remember that while you may have 24 (or 44) different sets of parents to meet with, each of those parents is only concerned about their one child.  To the best you can, give them your undivided attention.  If they see things differently than you, resist the urge to be defensive. Listen to what they have to say, and let them know that your number one job is to be there for their child.  Even though you care about and are charged with supporting a whole class, their only interest is in their most prized possession, their child.  In my experience with parents, I have learned that the biggest thing they want is for you to care about their child and for you to hear them.  You are the child's teacher for one year.  They are the child's teacher for a lifetime.

Does communication with parents happen on one sheet of paper and in a 15 minute conversation?  No.  So how are you preparing for not just parent conferences, but for the whole year?  Each student needs and deserves a team that is working together for them.

Currently reading:
I finished listening to Absolutely Almost and really enjoyed it.  I think this would be a goo read aloud for 3rd or 4th grade.  It's actually a book that is mainly character development, not one that you are going to find a definitive plot.  On the audio version, I was also able to listen to an interview with the author.  The main character is a student who struggles with learning and navigating social interactions.  I could imagine several of our students who would enjoy hearing or reading this book.

I am excited to start a new book: The Mindful School Leader.  Here is the description from Amazon:
Big results come from small steps.
Written with school leaders in mind, this inspirational yet practical handbook teaches you how to add mindfulness into your day, bit by bit, whether you are sitting in your office or walking down the hall. With mindfulness, you will get better at managing meetings, responding creatively to complex situations, and achieving resilience—you will become a more effective leader and a more positive force for your staff and students.
I am participating in a virtual book club with a few principals across the country, looking forward to engaging in great conversations about this book!
Events this week:
**2nd. 3rd and 4th grade will have vision and hearing screening throughout the week
Tuesday - 4th grade field trip to Lowell Mills, School Council Meeting @ 3:30
Wednesday - Bus Open Circle Meetings @ 9:20, Grade 2 chorus @ 2:25, Staff Meeting @ 3:30, School Committee Mtg/Pledge @ 7:00
Thursday - 4th grade field trip to Lowell Mills, Kindergarten classes Discover Fall Enrichment Program, PTA General Membership Meeting @ 3:30
Friday - Dianna and Liz at SLT meeting in the am, 1st grade field trip to the library
**Reminder that report card entries will need to be completed by Monday, November 23

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Recently Dianna attended a conference on anxiety.  She shared insights that she gained from the conference with the district leadership team on Friday.  I know she will be sharing helpful pointers with our building as well.
  • Mrs. Spiczka's am class was doing writer's workshop...writing stories where they were teaching someone about something.
  • Mrs. Clark's 4th graders were using Chromebooks to research the Northeast region.
  • Be sure to check out the fall poetry that Mrs. Wenz's 2nd graders wrote.  I noticed lots of great descriptive language being used.

Check it out:
Interesting post about typing out some of your favorite writers in order to better understand and teach writing technique:
Through this Friday, DESE is seeking public comment about the revised science standards.  Take a few minutes to visit this link and then complete the survey.
Love, love, love this visual that I came across on Twitter!...

Sunday, November 8, 2015

To Tweet or Not to Tweet...

Principal ponderings...
On Friday, I spent that day at the MESPA Fall Conference.  I am a member of this organization for elementary principals.  The theme of the conference was 'principals supporting principals', and I was lucky enough to be selected to present.  My topic was about how to avoid administrator island.  It's easy to feel like you are stuck on an island when you are in the principal role.  I actually spent most of my presentation talking about this blog and how it has helped me form connections beyond my school walls.  I also spent time helping other administrators figure out Twitter and how they could use it to learn from and connect with principals across the country and the globe.

So I figured it's probably time for me to do one of my Twitter posts for all of you.  I discovered this video clip from a principal I follow on Twitter.  I included it in my presentation because I think the message supports what happens on Twitter every day.  We go about our business each day, teaching our students, planning lessons, discussing education with our peers.  And we might think that what we are doing is nothing special.  Watch this clip and think about this: what is obvious to us, might be amazing to someone else.
That video clip sums up my thoughts for why educators should utilize Twitter.  Everyday teachers are doing amazing things in classrooms, but they might not think what they are doing is so amazing.  However, someone else might be so psyched to learn from you.  If you are not on Twitter yet, I encourage you to create an account and start learning amazing things from everyday educators around the country.  Here is another clip that demonstrates the value of Twitter for educators...

And once you have your account and spend some time reading what other educators are doing, then it will be time for you to start tweeting about what you are doing in your classroom.  Here is an infographic to get you started:
Check out this extensive list for ideas of different chats to join in on.
And in the true spirit of elementary school, here's a Dr. Seuss inspired guide to twitter:

If you haven't checked out Twitter yet, what's stopping you?  Remember, if we expect our students to be connected, then we need to be connected as well!

Currently reading:
During my car ride this week, I listened to The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.  I thought it was definitely a good one to listen to since there are many different characters telling their perspective of Origami Yoda.  
I am excited to start listening to Absolutely Almost during my drive this week.  I have the actual book that I loaned to Mrs. Pierantozzi, and she informed me that her son enjoyed so I'm hoping I will too!  Here is a short book trailer about the book: 
I think I may have created a monster...Emerson has become slightly obsessed with books.  She loves to sit and flip through all of her books.  And she will pull one out of the pile and come crawl on my lap, wanting me to read to her.  Maybe she is going to be a non-fiction fan because her two favorites right now, which we read over and over, are one mini board book about fruits and veggies and this book about different animal heads...

Events this week:
Monday - Latin Class @ 3:30, Mandarin Chinese class @ 3:30
Wednesday - Veteran's Day, No school
Thursday - Student Council Meeting @ 8:30, Liz at Ed Eval Working Group Meeting 12-3
Friday - Dianna and Liz at SLT Meeting in the am

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I overheard lots of singing going on in the gym and I discovered the whole second grade doing some singing activities after their music and teamwork enrichment program that had happened in their classrooms. 
  • When Dr. Rodriguez and I walked around the building on Tuesday, we caught Mrs. Potter and Mrs. Smith's class giving each other some thoughtful compliments. 
  • I walked into Mrs. Roundtree's room and Mrs. Nissi's room and found students hard at work writing using their story arcs.  

  • Mrs. Mills's students were motivated and excited to write with partners about "small things" for poems they were working on...they had to be descriptive so that others could guess their small item.
  • I caught Mrs. Wynn working with Mr. Rider's first graders.  They were eagerly demonstrating their knowledge of the commutative property after watching the dice roll on the screen.
Check it out:

  • The Two Writing Teachers blog that I follow has been hosting a week long blog focus on information writing.  They are hosting a Twitter chat Monday night to sum up their week of talking about information writing.  Check it out tomorrow night @ 8:30 using the hashtag #TWTBlog.
  • And here is one of the posts from Two Writing Teachers which focuses on Teacher-Written Mentor Texts: Diving into Information Writing
  • November is Family Literacy Night, check out this link from DESE for tips on promoting family literacy and learning
  • And one more funny clip about Twitter

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Homework Debate

Principal ponderings...

To assign or not to assign, that is the age-old question.  The discussion of homework is one that often gets pushed down on the list of priorities.  But it is an important conversation to have.  Homework is just one of those things that has been around in education for a very long time. My parents told me stories about their homework.  You and I had homework when we were in school.  And now our students have homework.  So it is one of those things that fits into the category "we've always done it."  What we know about teaching and learning is always evolving and changing.  We have changed our expectations.  We have changed how we do things in the classroom.  But why has homework not changed?

I have been reading lots of blog posts and articles lately about the homework debate.  There have been studies done that have determined that homework is not necessary and that it has no impact on student learning.  There have also been reports that elementary students are getting three times as much homework as what is recommended.  And there are also lots of discussions about how homework impacts situations at home, causing anxiety and stress for students and parents.

Take a look at some of these articles and posts:

I have lots of my own thoughts and questions about homework.  We will be discussing this topic possibly at an upcoming staff meeting or in team meetings.  I ask all of you to take some time to read over one or more of the articles I listed or search for your own...there are a lot out there!  Think about what you have been doing for homework with your students.  Think about how you utilize homework.  Think about the purpose of your homework that you assign.  I am not asking you to change anything, I am simply asking you to think about what you have done, what you are doing and what the benefits or challenges are in regards to homework.

Should we keep doing what we've always done?  Or should we think about changing our practice?

Currently reading:
This week, I have been enjoying reading more of the graphic novel, El Deafo.  This book would make for good discussions with students about fitting in and accepting friends who are different.
My MCBA book choice this week is the I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001.  I imagine I am going to have a harder time reading this than the 4th graders since I lived through this.  My neighbor at the time was one of the TJX employees on one of the planes.
I checked out some new audio books to listen to on my daily drive.  The one I will start with is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  This is the only book I have ever abandoned when I was a classroom teacher.  I was reading it to my second graders, and I just couldn't get into it so I told them they could borrow to read on their own, but I was going to stop reading it.  The other day, I saw a FloRo student reading the book and I asked her about it.  I decided I needed to give it a second chance.  Especially since Kate DeCamillo is one of my favorite writers!

Events this week:
**Hope everyone remembered to turn their clocks back!  Goodbye driving home in the daylight!
Monday - Latin Class @ 3:30, Mandarin Chinese @ 3:30
Tuesday - optional follow up staffing meeting @8:30 with the superintendent, Dr. Rodriguez visits FR for the morning
Wednesday - Staff meeting @ 3:30, Liz's final SEI Admin course!
Friday - All School Assembly in the PAC @ 9:20 - The Ned Show - Character Education

Great things I noticed last week:
  • On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend the DESE Fall Convening where I went to sessions about developing a shared understanding of quality practice (check out this video library that DESE has put together, we might use some of these for discussion), effective use of PLCs, and reviewing the new Educator Effectiveness Guidebook for Inclusive Education.  And then I went to my 3 hour SEI Admin course.  Slight information over load that day!
  • Thursday was one of my favorite days of the year...Dress Like A Favorite Book Character Day!  There were lots of students and teachers showing their spirit!
  • Love this message that I saw a student post in the shared lit room! #growthmindset from the mouths of babes! 
  • I caught Mrs. Smith getting mummified!  
  • It was a full moon this week, we had a half day, it was the day before Halloween, it was the end of the day on a Friday...yet I walked into Mrs. Mills's classroom and students were all lost in their books!
  • I had a great chat with some 4th graders who were checking out the MCBA recommendation board.  One student was helping another student add her book rec write-up, and then we just started talking about what we had already read, what we wanted to read next, which ones we liked...and more 4th graders joined us on their way to the bathroom.  Loved every second of that hallway discussion!

Check it out:
A parent shared this interesting read with me about how the typical parent-teacher conference is changing:
Why we have to keep going, we have to keep teaching even during the most difficult times:
I'll leave you with this thought...