Monday, January 25, 2016

Recipe for Reading

Principal ponderings...

I spent some time this weekend going back over blog posts that I have written over the past three years.  It was great to reread and remember the messages I was sending out.  When I first started writing this blog, my main goal was to talk more about literacy and reading instruction.  Clearly, I have branched out to many other topics since then.  But I realized that it's an important topic to revisit.  While I know a lot of our discussions have centered around our new math curriculum this year, I don't want us to forget about the hard work and professional development that we put into molding our literacy instruction into the Reader's Workshop model.

I like to think that using the Reader's Workshop model is like cooking with a recipe.  The first few times you cook it, you need to be continually referring to the instructions.  You need to check back over the ingredients to make sure you use the correct amount.  And each time you make that recipe in the beginning, sometimes it turns out slightly different.  Could have been the kind of ingredients you used.  Could have been the oven.  Could have been that phone call you got in the middle of cooking that caused something to change.  But for the most part, the recipe turns out well.  With cooking, just like with Reader's Workshop, after a few times, you can do the recipe without even looking at the instructions.  You can see the ingredient list in your head.  You know exactly the way your reading block will go for that day.  And you feel confident that the recipe, and your readers, will turn out the way you want.  But then some time goes by and the next time you plan to cook that recipe...maybe your memory of the ingredients is a little foggy.  Or you start making the recipe and then realize you are missing one of the ingredients and need to run to the store.  Or you shared the recipe with a friend and when they made, it tasted better than when you made it.  So what do you do?  You go back to the cookbook and follow the recipe.

I am looking forward to popping into classrooms to see Reader's Workshop in action.  I may even have our reading coach join me on a few visits.  While I know Reader's Workshop has become part of your routine now, it's always good to reflect, to look back over the recipe, to make sure the planning and work is producing the outcomes you want.

What will you cook up in Reader's Workshop this week?

And to get you thinking about some of the different aspects of Reader's Workshop, here are a few quotes to ponder, think about, discuss, respond to...

Currently reading:
I am almost done listening to The Tale of Desperaux...and I am once again reminded of what a great book it is!  If you have not read this one yet, you need to!  As soon as I finish it, the next book that I will be listening to on my drive is Hoot.
I also finished reading Annika Riz, Math Whiz and Hate That Cat.  Sharon Creech is another great author that I love to read.  I will be reading her book Heartbeat this week.  
I'm also reading a quick easy chapter book, Dory and the Real True Friend.  It's about a little girl who has to make a friend at school and leave her imaginary friends at home.
Events this week:
Monday - Optional feedback meeting @ 8:30 in the staff room to discuss Tuesday's evacuation, Zumba in the gym @ 3:30!
Tuesday - Liz at Crisis Management Team Meeting 1:00-3:00, Optional info meeting about needs assessment with Dr. Rodriguez @ 3:30 in the staff room, PTA Meeting @ 7:30 - Dr. Rodriguez - guest speaker
Wednesday - 4th grade Museum of Science program at MSN PIT in the afternoon, 2nd grade chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym
Thursday - 1st grade math PD session in the afternoon
Friday - Staff Breakfast hosted by the paras, Future Search Community Event at Groton Country Club, 4:00-8:00
Saturday - Future Search Community Event continues at Groton Country Club, 8:00-3:00

Great things I noticed last week:
  • When we returned to school after our morning adventures, it was great to see the remaining students having fun together, eating lunch with siblings, and shooting hoops in the gym.
  • Wednesday morning we were able to start our day with the 4th grade chorus school show.  I don't know about anyone else, but if there was ever a week where we needed to clap along to Caribbean music...this was the week!
  • I enjoyed popping into Mrs. Goddard's art class where I saw 3rd graders carefully creating beautiful pieces of pottery.
  • Thursday night the 4th graders did a fabulous job performing for their parents!
Check it out:
Scholastic now has a podcast...check it out...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Educational Force Awakens

Principal ponderings...
A long time ago, in a school far, far, away...
It is surprising that it has taken me this long to write a post connecting education to Star Wars.  Of course many have been waiting 38 years for the 7th movie to come out.  I doubt many of you who read my blog have been waiting that long for this post.  I could say that my husband is forcing me to type this post.  But no, I decided it needed to be done.  So here goes...what can Star Wars teach us about teaching and learning? (Turns out I came up with 7 lessons to be learned...not necessarily one from each episode, but I figured it would be an appropriate number to come up with!)
1. Yoda's famous line..."Do or do not...there is no try."  Besides being a ringtone on my husband's phone, this famous line can be found everywhere.  In terms of education, I'm a little on the fence with this one.  Yes, we do want our students to just do learning.  But if I am thinking with a growth mindset, then I am going to expect to see a lot of trying and failing and trying and failing and trying and learning.  So I am going to have to contradict Yoda and say yes, there is try.

2. Obi Wan Kenobi was the legendary Jedi Master who trained Anakin Skywalker and mentored Luke Skywalker.  He is a wise man; there is no such thing as luck in education.  You don't just get lucky and teach amazing lessons.  You have to work hard at that.  Students don't just get lucky and learn everything that is taught to them.  They have to work hard to see results.  Teachers and students can't rely on luck; they have to put in the effort to get the results.

3. In the scene depicted above, Princess Leia is sending a message to Obi-Wan.  She records her message using the droid R2-D2.  First, I will say that thankfully teachers aren't the only hope for our students, but they certainly play a very large part.  Teachers are the ones who are going to help them master a new concept.  Teachers are the ones who are going to reteach them when they don't get it the first time.  Teachers are the ones who are going to get to know them so well that they will be able to tell when students are having an off day or need some extra attention.  Of course, this scene also makes me think that some students are able to get the help message sent to you, while for others there is a breakdown in the communication system so we have to always be aware of when our students need us.  Everyone remembers this line from the movie, but not everyone remembers the first part of the message..."I have placed information vital to the survival of the Rebellion into the memory systems of this R2 unit.  My father will know how to retrieve it.  You must see this droid safely delivered to him on Alderaan."
It was clear that information, important information was in the file.  And not to give anything away, but in the newest movie, Episode IIV, there is another droid carrying important information.  Basically, information saves the day in many of the Star Wars movies.  As educators, we know all about information being stored, shared, used to solve problems, etc.  And while the information is important, what's most important is how the information is used.

4. Ah Hans Solo...he certainly has some pretty simple, straight forward advice.  What I would take from this line?  You might teach a lesson one day that was out of this world amazing.  Or maybe you taught a unit and every single student rocked the assessment.  Or maybe you have set up a routine in your classroom and everyone knows exactly what to do.  That's great, but don't get cocky!  As we all know every day, every moment...things can change pretty quickly.  Don't think every lesson will turn out the way you want.  Don't assume that your students will get it every time.  Don't be surprised when some days nothing goes as planned.  Don't fall into a trap of being complacent.  Keep yourself open to change and be ready to learn from every experience.

5.  Well this one is a no-brainer for all of us in education.  Clearly, we all know that a child's mind is truly wonderful.  In fact, our students' brains are amazing!  To think of all that they soak up, take in, process, plan, explore,'s fascinating.  But it is good that Yoda can remind us of this key fact.  Thank goodness kids are so full of creativity and have no problem thinking outside of the box on a daily basis.  Let's make sure we don't get in their way!

6. Thank you Obi-Wan for reminding us to keep a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset.  The Jedi Master, always full of good advice, knows the importance of failing.  Only if we fail, will we improve.  Think of those students who need reteaching or need to talk about and see their mistakes.  Then once they have an understanding of what they did wrong...we need to let them know how much more powerful they became, how they learned from their mistakes.

7. Leave it to C-3PO to present some rather depressing odds.  Sometimes, in some situations, with certain students, the odds are stacked against us.  But it's important to remember...even if the odds are 3,720 to 1...someone has to be that one.  And isn't it just the greatest feeling when you are the teacher that helps that one student?!  No matter what the odds are, don't give up on any student.  There's always a chance that you will be the one to reach them.

I think that's enough wisdom from Star Wars for now.  I know the force is strong with all of you Jedi Master educators.  And I can feel the strength of the force from our young Jedis in training.  As you battle time constraints, copy machines and evil budgets, always remember the power that is within all of you.  Don't let yourself get pulled to the dark side or impromptu parent conferences in the hallway.  Remember that it is your duty to keep awakening the educational force.  In the words of Yoda, "Much to learn, you still have."  And of course...

Currently reading:
I finished listening to the book Three Times Lucky.  I'm glad I chose to listen to this book because the Southern accents of the narrator made me enjoy this mystery even more.  And the main character is a spunky little 11-year-old that you can't help but cheer on as she tries to help solve a murder and find her "upstream mother."  I also finished reading the MCBA book Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace.  I certainly enjoyed the connections to music throughout this book.  This week, I am excited to listen to The Tale of Desperaux.
When I was a 2nd grade teacher, this was my absolute favorite book to read aloud to my class each year.  We would get to the end of a chapter, and students would beg me to keep reading "just one more."  And then I would love it when I would see my students copying Kate DiCamillo's style in their writing.  So I decided I would listen to the story again...because I love it!
I am reading another great author this week...Sharon Creech.  This week I am reading Hate That Cat.
I also started reading the book, Annika Riz, Math Whiz.  This book was written by the author that wrote Kesley Green, Reading Queen.  

Event this week:
Monday - Martin Luther King Day, No school
Tuesday - 4th grade chorus rehearsal 11:00-12:30, School Council Meeting @ 3:30
Wednesday - Library Fund Committee Meeting @ 8:15 in the library, Jackie Reis, Media Relations Coordinator from DESE will be shadowing Liz in the am, 2nd grade chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym, Joint staff meeting with SU in the MSN Pit from 3:30-4:30
Thursday - 4th Grade Evening Concert in the PAC @ 7:00
Friday - Liz and Dianna at PBIS training with SLT @ Prescott in the am

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Have you checked out the front bulletin board?  Take a minute to read some of the reading resolutions and post one of your own!
  • I stopped by the Student Council meeting and saw the members doing some communication activities to practice leaderships and communication skills. 
  • Walking down the hallway, I happened to see Mrs. Collentro doing some counting practice with a student.
  • The special education teachers spent some time together in a training discussing how to best help a student with significant reading difficulties.  
  • Nancy, our behavior specialist, took some time on Friday morning to meet with the paras on her caseload and talk about how best to prompt students.

Check it out:
Take three minutes to watch this cool video called "The Tree."  I would say the force is strong with that little boy!  Great visual of growth mindset and how one person, a little boy, can do amazing things when he puts his mind to it. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Leading Resolutions

Principal ponderings...

If you know me, then you probably thought I made a typo in the title of my post.  Usually I am the one making 'reading resolutions', but this year I wanted to actually share my 'leading resolutions' with all of you.  If I put them into writing, it will definitely hold me more accountable, plus all of you who read this will remind what I said I would work on!

1. My first resolution is to be more mindful.  This job is fast paced, non-stop, all-consuming at times.  But I don't have to let it take over my whole life.  My goal this year is to make sure to not lose myself in the job.  I am working on finding the balance between the job and the rest of my life.  I need to work to support my family, but I also need to not work to support my family.  At this moment, as I type these sentences, I have a one year old reaching up to me wanting to be picked up, the oven timer going off, and this blog still needing to be written.  This is my life.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  I just need to be mindful about keeping a balance.

2.  My second resolution is to get into classrooms more and provide high quality feedback to my staff.  I need to keep putting classroom visits on my calendar and not let other things get in the way.  My day becomes full of meetings.  I know there are some good organizational strategies that I can apply to planning my week to help with this.  I am part of a principal group through DESE and my working group is focused on creating resources for principals and teachers around the topic of high quality feedback.  I need to make sure I am applying this work to the work I do everyday.

3.  Of course I have to put in a resolution related to reading.  This year I set a goal of reading 150 books.  It's a smaller number than I have previously set.  But I know I need to be realistic about what I can accomplish in a day!  Besides setting a goal to keep reading and reading and variety of books, I do also want to put it in writing that I will do more writing this year.  This blog certainly keeps me writing on a regular basis, but I would like to explore more writing, whether it's simply doing more personal journaling or writing professionally.

4. My final resolution has to do with continuing to connect and seek out my own professional development.  I love learning, and I know that I always have ways to improve my skills as a leader.  I still seek out connections and new knowledge through Twitter and Voxer.  I have also been challenging myself to get more involved in the associations that I am a member of, including the MA Reading Association, MESPA - MA Elementary Principals group, and NAESP - National Elementary Principal group.  I have even begun to present at these different organizations and am excited to share that I was just chosen to speak at the National Conference this summer in Baltimore!  I am looking forward to connecting with administrators and educators across the country.

So what are your professional resolutions for 2016?

Currently reading:
I finished listening to Dear Mr. Henshaw on my drive this week.  It was good to listen to that book again.  I just started listening to a new book in my car.  It's called Three Times Lucky and takes place in a small Southern town in North Carolina.  The person who recorded the audio for this book is speaking in a strong Southern accent so if I start saying "ya'll" more'll know why!
Thanks to Dianna for sharing Tear Soup with me.  If you want to read this picture book that talks about dealing with grief, she left a copy in the staff room.  

Events this week:
Monday - Zumba with Mary Kaye at 3:30 in the gym!
Tuesday - 2nd grade library trips
Wednesday - 4th grade chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym, School Committee Meeting
@ 7:00 - HS Library
Thursday - Student Council Meeting @ 8:30 am, 4th grade chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym
Friday - District-wide half day, 12:15 dismissal, no lunch, multi-part series in the afternoon

Great things I noticed last week:

  • A first grader came to my office to share the problem and solution from a book that she had written about in class.
  • Mrs. Fulreader got to fill in as Mrs. Cahill and read a story and led a discussion in Mrs. Wilkins's class.
  • I caught some kindergartners reading about ice.  Did it say anything about what to do when there is ice all over the play structure on the playground?!
  • Mrs. Lanctot's class has been delivering heartprint notes to people in the are a few that Mrs. Kinneen received. 
  • Thank you to Irene for opening up her home and hosting our staff holiday party.  It was so nice to come together and enjoy food and some much needed laughter.

Check it out:
Here is a blog post about a 30 day teach happy challenge.  James Lin had shared it with of his staff had shared it with him.  So know I wanted to pass it on to all of you...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Hold onto hope

Principal ponderings...

My mother-in-law gave me a book for Christmas titled The Daily Book of Positive Quotations.  After returning home from Michael's funeral on Saturday, I was emotionally drained.  I found the book my mother-in-law gave me and opened to the January 2 page.  It was titled "Things Change."  Here's what it said:

       "Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter.  Who would think that those branches would         turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it."  -- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

        When our lives are difficult, we feel as if things will never change.  This, in turn, makes it harder         for us to take the steps that might create the change we want.  When we look back on our lives,           we can see that we've had both good and bad times.  Somehow, we survived the bad times, and          things eventually got better.  The passage of time helped, but we also acted in ways that moved            us towards a happier place.

       My day is filled with ups and downs.  If today is a bad day -- or this week is a bad week -- I know        it's not forever and that I will come through it.

I definitely needed to read this page on that day.  And I think I will need to reread it several more times over the next few weeks.  As I said in one of my previous emails to staff, so much sadness is difficult to deal with, but I know we will get through it.  We need to remember that this bad time is not forever and that we will all come through it together.

When I look around me in the staff room, the hallway, the classrooms, the cafeteria, I don't just see a school.  I don't just see a dedicated staff.  When I look around me, I see a family.  We celebrate with each other.  We support each other.  We sometimes disagree with each other.  We laugh with each other.  We cry with each other.  We care about each other, and we also get on each other's nerves.  We are a family.  And as a family, we will help each other move past this sad time; we will help each other move towards a happier time.

For today, we need to hold on.  We need to hold onto hope.  Thankfully, our jobs are all about hope.  Our school is full of hope.  Our students are full of hope, and they share that hope with us everyday.  As hard as it may be, let's hold on through this awful period of time, and let's be hopeful about the future.  Let's seek out the positive in each of our students.  Let's hold onto the hope that is bursting out of each and every one of them.  We will certainly help each other, but our students, they will be the ones that will heal us.  They will remind us of the good in life.  I believe they will be the ones to turn our sadness into smiles.

A friend posted this quote and knew I had to share it with all of you:

Currently reading:
I have almost finished reading Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace.  It has been an enjoyable read with some good character development.  I checked out a few books on CD to listen to on my drive.  The first one that I am listening to is actually a reread for me.  It's a great book that is worth listening to again...Dear Mr. Henshaw.

Events this week:
Monday - Quick staff meeting @ 8:30 in the staff room
Tuesday - Dr. Rodriguez visits FloRo in the am
Wednesday - Grade 4 chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym, Staff Meeting @ 3:30
Friday - Liz and Dianna at SLT meeting in the am, 2nd grade library trips, FloRo Staff Party after school at Irene O'Grady's house

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Just a few examples of some lovely festive wear that was worn before the break.  Glad to see everyone getting in the holiday spirit!
  • The writers in Mrs. Wilkins's class invited me in to hear their published stories.  My favorite part?  The blurbs that they wrote on the back of their stories to hook their readers in...loved them!
  • I happened to catch Mrs. Lanctot's class working with their book buddies, Mrs. Clark's class.  They were writing holiday letters to send to soldiers who couldn't be with their families.  What a great act of kindness.
  • And I was pleasantly surprised to walk down the first grade hallway and hear 4th graders caroling, spreading joy throughout the building!

Check it out:
Check out this Ted Talk: What Makes Us Happy and Healthy as We Go Through Life?  Interesting 75 year long study that has been taking place, all about adult development.