Sunday, October 29, 2017

Parent Teacher Conference Tips from Disney Princesses

Principal ponderings...
It's almost parent teacher conference time.  I know that some of you have already had some conferences with your parents, but next week, we have our first official parent teacher conference time, and I wanted to offer some suggestions as you get ready for those meetings.  I am by no means an expert, but I have been part of many conferences, and I have some tips for us all to think about.  Maybe because we went to Disney on Ice on Sunday or maybe because my house has been taken over by Disney princesses or maybe because my daughter wears a different Disney princess outfit each day...whatever the reason, I decided to pull my parent teacher conference tips from Disney movies.  Enjoy!

Tip #1: A strong family bond makes life that much sweeter.  In our case...a strong home school connection is key!
Of course, coming from a larger family, I know that sometimes we did not all see eye to eye.  But I don't know what I would do without each of my family members.  We need each other...through all of the ups and downs in life.  It's the same when you think about the home school bond that we have to work to develop with each family.  There are times when you as the teacher might not agree with the parent.  And there are times when the parents might not agree with you.  But our students need us to always work at working together.  When you are conducting parent conferences, always try to remember that a strong home school connection is the foundation that will help move students forward.

Tip #2: Don't judge a book by its cover and if you do, have the courage to change your mind.
Sometimes we are quick to judge people.  We are human.  We make mistakes.  Sometimes a parent sends you an email or makes a comment about something you have done as a teacher.  And you begin to formulate an opinion about that parent.  Or maybe the teacher the year before had a tough relationship with the parents, and you assume that you will have the same problems.  Or maybe you have a working parent who shows up late to the conference or not at all.  As hard as it might be, try to set aside your assumptions, your judgments, your already formed ideas about how the conference will go.  No matter what interactions you have already had or not had, these are parents who are trusting you with their most prized possessions, their children.  If you wrongly judged them or if they wrongly judged you, it's never too late to start fresh.  We can all learn from Belle to look beyond what we can see on the surface.  During conferences, we need to give parents a chance to show us what they are thinking and feeling about their child's education, and we need to be able to show them more than just what they see or hear about us as educators.

Tip #3: Never stop learning.
Of course we are in the business of education so this seems like a no-brainer.  We never stop learning and talking about learning.  But I think it's important to remember this tip during parent conferences.  Just like Ariel, we need to always be willing to "ask 'em my questions and get some answers."  When you are meeting with parents, this is a chance to learn more about your students.  You will grow as an educator by asking questions.  You will help your students grow even more by asking questions and getting the parents to think about the types of questions they should be asking about their child as a learner.  You could show them some of their child's work, and then ask, "I wonder why she chose to solve the problem this way, do you know why?"  Or ask a parent about what his child likes to read and what he thinks the child is thinking about while reading.  I certainly don't mean that you want to grill the parents with questions.  I think you can use questioning and wondering to guide the conversation with parents.  They might have some good questions for you.  Write their questions down and see if you can use those questions to look at your student in a different light.

Tip #4: Comfort zones were meant to be stepped out of...don't let your fear guide you or trap you.
I remember that nervous feeling before I met with parents.  I thought if I just stick to the script, tell them a few facts, show them some work, and hope they don't ask me something I can't answer...then I will be able to get through these conferences quickly.  I challenge you to not do what I did; I challenge you to break from the script.  Each of your students are different, and each of their parents are different as well.  Don't be afraid to have very different conferences based on the student that you are discussing.  If you are in the mode of sticking to a script, chances are, the conference won't be effective for you or the parents.  And then when the parent throws you a curveball question or comment, you won't be prepared because it wasn't in your notes.  Plus, don't we say that in order for your brain to truly be learning new information, we need to be presented with struggles and challenges?  Approach conference time as a time when you are going to stretch that brain of yours!  

Tip #5: Try to imagine walking in someone else's footsteps.
Pocahontas had to learn a lot about John Smith and the strangers that sailed to her land.  John Smith had to learn a lot about Pocahontas and her people.  You have the perspective of the classroom and your students through your eyes.  Parents have the perspective of your classroom and their child through their eyes.  We need to try to imagine walking in each other's shoes.  If you can think about what the parent's perspective is going to be, it might help you get whatever message you want to get across.  Plus, seeing things from the parent's view can be a learning opportunity and can help you connect with parents and students.

Bonus tip: Don't let time get away from you!  
There never seems to be enough time for each parent conference.  Try to be strategic about planning out what you discuss and what you share with parents.  Don't be like Cinderella and forget what time it is!  You don't want to end your parent conference in a rush and then realize you forgot to share important information.  Plus, you don't want your car to turn into a pumpkin or your conference outfit to turn back into rags. 

Clearly I need to stop watching Disney movies and find a room in my house that doesn't have a princess in it.  But hopefully you can take something away from these tips, and get ready to have some efficient, thought-provoking, productive parent conferences.  When we connect with parents, the results for our students is magical!

Currently reading:
I started reading the sequel to The War That Saved My Life.  It's called The War I Finally Won.  This historical fiction book is the conclusion of Kimberley Brubaker Bradley's story of Ada and Jamie, two children experiencing World War II.  I loved the first book so much; hoping her second one is just as good!
I bought a new book that I love!  It's called Life Without Blinders is Beautiful.  Here's what the jacket cover says: "an inspiring, thought-provoking invitation to step out of the darkness and discover the abundant beauty hidden in this crazy, messy, wonderful world."  It is a simple, yet beautiful book to read, and I think it could be provide some inspiration for writing.  Here are some examples of the layout of the book:
Would life's darkest days be an invitation to dance in the rain?
Could what ties us down
Could what ties us down be what keeps us up?
Events this week:
Tuesday - Dr. Chesson visits FloRo from 9:30-12
Wednesday -  Kindergarten chorus time @ 2:20, Staff Meeting from 3:30-4:30
Thursday - Teacher Field Trip to Ruggles Lane to observe WIN block in action
Friday - Kindergarten Nashua River Fall Enrichment program, Gift of Failure book club meeting @ 8:20 in Laurie and Angela's room

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I love this sign that Mrs. Kinneen posted on the door to the gym!
  • On Monday and Tuesday, I attended and presented at the Literacy for All conference in Rhode Island.  I heard some great speakers, including Stephanie Harvey, who talked about the best intervention being a good book...yes! 
  • Mr. Wiesner got 1st graders to do some acting while singing during music class.  The little old lady was very convincing! 

  • I did not get to make it around to see all of the costumes, but I caught some great book character costumes being worn by students and staff! 
  • Did you see Mrs. Fournier's display of her students' hopes and dreams?  They read the book Happy Dreamer and talked about what their hopes and dreams were.  Head down to the end of the 3rd grade hallway and check the rest out! 

Check it out:
Some other posts about parent teacher conferences:
And of course this video clip might put a smile on your face...

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Day in the Life...

Principal ponderings...

It's National Principals' Month so I thought it would be a good time to do a day in the life post.  I have been meaning to write one of these for a while, and now it's the perfect month for it.  I always think it's interesting when people say to me, "I could never do your job."  Trust me, I never thought I could do this job!  But I was a teacher once who thought maybe I'll get my principal certification just in case.  I thought I would keep teaching and then maybe someday I'd become a principal.  And then I thought well I will practice interviewing for a job just in case.  Ten years ago, as some would say, I went to the dark side.  I became a school administrator.  It is amazing to me to think that I have been doing this principal gig for ten years.  And there are definitely still days where I think I can't do this job.

But I'm here to tell you that I think you can do this job.  Do you want to make a difference?  Do you want to impact the future?  Then you can do this job.  Do you care about kids?  Do you believe that every kid can learn and grow?  Then you can do this job.  We need more educators who want to do this job.  So let me tell you about a typical day in the life of a principal.  (Ok, there is no typical day so this is just a hypothetical schedule that comes pretty close to representing what a day looks like.)

5:00 am - Alarm goes off.  Some days I get up and go into auto-pilot getting ready for the day.  And then on some days...I hit snooze too many times.  During my first few years as an admin, I used to roll out of bed and immediately check email.  I have learned that my day starts better and any email I have in my inbox can wait at least a few more hours.
6:00 am - If my daughter wakes up, then I try to spend some time with her, maybe even give in to getting to work later than normal so I can be the one to drop her off at daycare at 7:30.  During my drive, listen to messages on Voxer or listen to a book I have on Audible.
7:00 am - If I was able to sneak out of the house while everyone else was asleep, then I arrive at work early so I can have some uninterrupted time.  Once 8:00 rolls around, there is no more uninterrupted time.
8:30 am - Meet with a teacher to help her process how to respond to a parent email received last night.  During that meeting, multi-task and develop a coverage schedule because there are teachers and paras who are out but there are no subs available.  Head out to the lobby to welcome kids to school and give out high fives.
9:10 am - Practice the announcements with 4th graders and help them pronounce some difficult last names for birthday announcements.  Do the announcements and come over the loud speaker to tell the school about an upcoming event.
9:15 - Meet with the parent that showed up and asked if you had some free time to meet because they have some concerns.  During that meeting, change your schedule so that you can cover one of the specials that does not have a sub.
9:45 - Divide and conquer with your assistant principal.  Two bus incident reports came in and you need to investigate and meet with several students to determine what exactly happened and if a consequence is needed.
10:00 - Teach an art class to 3rd graders.
10:45 - Pop into a kindergarten classroom to squeeze in a mini observation that you had originally scheduled for yesterday afternoon but had to move to a different day and time.
11:00 - Respond to a walkie talkie call from the playground to help a student transition in to lunch.
11:15 - Read aloud a picture book to a 2nd grade classroom. (For a few minutes, remember how much you miss having your own classroom.)
11:45 - Take a phone call from central office about a situation that will require you to move some items down on your to do list.  You have to have some paperwork completed by Friday now.
12:00 - Head to the cafeteria to check in with a few students about an incident from yesterday and get more information about one of the bus incidents.  Get a text from your admin assistant reminding you to eat lunch.  Consider going back to your office to eat, but stop by the guidance counselor's office to get briefed on a student whose family is currently in crisis.
12:30 - Get called back out to the playground because a student was hurt pretty badly and we need to make a determination if we need to call an ambulance.  Ambulance is called.  Now need to make a decision about who should travel to the hospital with the child and wait for the parents to arrive.  Decide to send the assistant principal.
12:45 - Remember that I'm supposed to be listening in on a webinar from DESE about MCAS data.  It started at 12:30.  Head back into the office, start the webinar and manage to shovel a few bites of salad in my mouth.  Full water bottle sitting on my table reminds me that I was supposed to drink more water today but clearly I forgot.  Start drinking water.
1:20 - Decide that I will listen to the rest of the DESE webinar when they send me the link to the recording.  Close my laptop and call a few students to the office to try to get the answer about the bus incident.
1:45 - Check the clock and realize the school day is quickly coming to an end.  Make sure that I have everything ready for the school council meeting that is happening at 3:30.
2:00 - Pop into a 1st grade classroom to do another mini observation.  Go into the library right after to try to make myself finish the write up right away.  End up talking with and working with some students who were in the library.  Decide that I will plan on doing observation write ups later tonight.
2:20 - Get invited to a 4th grade class to see them share some of their writing.  Listen to a few stories and then get a call on the walkie talkie that staff in the sub separate room need support.  Help a student get back on track, but not before being used as a punching bag in order to block the child from hitting other staff and/or the wall.
2:30 - Head back to the office to take a few more bites of salad.  Realize that the admin assistant scheduled a meeting with you and the union rep to talk about something that some teachers are upset about.
2:45 - Visited by some kindergartners who have brought their work with them to show me how hard they have been working on writing their names.
3:00 - Chat quickly with the PTA president about an upcoming event happening over the weekend.
3:10 - Head out to a bus to give some assigned seats as the dismissal process begins.
3:15 - Say goodbye to students as they leave the school.  Help in the office during dismissal.  Need to locate two students who got on a bus but were supposed to go to extended day.  Also need to call a parent because the child stopped off in the bathroom and then missed the bus.
3:30 - Run a school council meeting.  Set an alarm to go off at 4:25 so I wrap up the meeting in time to pack up and leave by 4:30.
4:45 - Call to talk with the parents of the child that was sent by ambulance.  Looks like he has a broken arm.  Listen to more Voxer messages.  Send some messages through Voxer including give a principal in Texas some advice on handling a difficult parent situation.
5:32 - As usual, arrive to daycare just a few minutes late because there was an accident on the way home.
5:45 - Finally arrive back at home.  Try to figure out what will be easy to make for dinner while listening to my toddler yell and cry that she wants ice cream right now.
6:30 - Eat dinner and spend some time playing with my daughter.  Facetime with daddy because he is working in the music store and then has to go straight to play a gig so we won't see each other really until tomorrow morning when he's asleep and I'm getting up again.
7:15 - Give my daughter a bath and get her ready for bed.  Lay down in her bed and set an alarm for 8:45 so I can get up and do some work.  Fall asleep with her for about half an hour.
9:00 - Get up and come back downstairs so I can help moderate a Twitter chat that I agreed to do for my state organization.  During the Twitter chat, also post some pictures that I took yesterday to the school Twitter page which then links to the school Facebook page.  Also look at tomorrow's schedule and try to plan out some more observations.
10:00 - Sit down on the couch to watch one of the many shows that I record but then never seem to get to actually watch.  While watching TV, work on writing up some of the mini observations from this week, as well as an article for Principal magazine that is due in two days.
11:00 - Drag myself back upstairs to go to bed.  Try to read a little from the book on top of the pile of books next to my bed.  Check my email one last time and learn that a teacher will be out the rest of the week due to a death in the family and a parent sent a very lengthy email about something that allegedly happened in the cafeteria.  Add the email to your to do list for the morning.
11:30 - Fall asleep while reading.
5:00 am - Alarm goes off.  Time to do it all over again although I know that this day will be completely different from yesterday since no two days in this job are ever the same.

That was a glimpse into a day in the life of this principal.  Seem fun?  Seem exhausting?  Seem rewarding?  Seem like a job you want?  Being a principal is fun, exhausting, rewarding, challenging and so much more.  Every day is different and usually your schedule does not go as planned. But I love that it's a different experience each day.  And I love that I am impacting kids and connecting with them in all different ways.  I also love that I get to see teachers do amazing things for kids each day.

Do you still think you couldn't do my job?  I bet you could.  Who is up for the challenge?  Anyone want to trade roles for a day?  Anyone want to talk with me and consider getting your principal certification?  Anyone want to make the jump to the dark side?  We certainly always need teacher leaders who want to step up and become school leaders.

Who wants to be a principal when they grow up?!

Currently reading:
I just got some new books in the mail that I could not wait to read!  The first one is a fabulous picture book called After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again.  I love this book!  I immediately read it to Emerson as soon we we took it out of the Amazon box.  The book is all about conquering your fears and getting back up after you fall.
The other awesome picture book I got in the mail is a favorite of mine: The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors.  What a seriously fun book to read aloud to kids.  Have you read this one to your students or have they had a chance to read this one out loud? 
I also got a great new professional development book in the mail.  It's called Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.  You might have seen it available at the book fair recently.  I have always been a big fan of Kylene Beers because she says it like it is in terms of reading instruction.  

Events this week:
Monday - 4th grade in house geology enrichment program, Liz at Literacy for All conference
Tuesday - 4th grade geology field trip around town, Liz presenting at Literacy for All conference
Wednesday - Co-teaching observations with Wendy Murawski, Melissa at MassCUE, Liz has K-2 SPARK winners in the gym at 2:45
Thursday - Student Council Meeting @ 8:15, Melissa has 3-4 SPARK winners in the gym at 2:45, Liz at MSAA Board Meeting
Friday - Spirit Day - Dress as you Favorite Book Character! Liz and Melissa at admin training with Teachers College 9:00-11:30, half day dismissal at 12:15, para PD with Melissa at 1:00, Teachers College PD for teachers

Great things I noticed last week:

  • This awesome 1st grader came to find me and show me all of the details he had put into his writing so that he was showing, not just telling. 
  • Thank you for these beautiful flowers and gift certificate to celebrate Boss's Day.  
  • I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Groton Public Library with some 1st grade classrooms for their field trip.  We listened to some stories and had a chance to explore the children's room. 
  • Flashlight Friday in Mrs. Gribi's class looked like a great time to hang out and do some independent reading.  Next time I want to bring my book in and read by flashlight! 
  • Loved hearing Mrs. Devereaux's 1st graders talk about what was challenging and what was easy during their math activities.  
  • Ms Hoke and Ms Johnson's class was up moving and singing about being bucket fillers when I popped in to read them a story. 

Check it out:
Saw this on Twitter and had to share...

Monday, October 16, 2017

Time to "be-lax"

Principal ponderings...
Ever have one of those days where you will I ever get through this to do list?  Or there's so much to do where do I start?  Or I know I need to do this difficult task, but I would much rather relax and do something that doesn't strain my brain?  That was me this weekend.  So for today's post I have decided to take my daughter's advice and just "be-lax."  Instead of something for you to read, I am just going to post some visual and auditory inspiration.

Take some deep breaths.  Maybe even close your eyes.  Give yourself a few minutes to get ready for the week.  And remember to "be-lax."

Here is a podcast to listen to, called "Unstoppable Learning."  Click the link and listen while driving or while cleaning the house (yep, I opt for driving over cleaning)

Here's a 3 minute inspirational video clip where a teacher shares what he believes...

And here's a 1 minute video clip that reminds us of how important we are for each child that we connect with...

And some visual inspiration for you...

Currently reading:
I got another great picture book from the book fair.  Written by Chelsea Clinton, it's called She Persisted: 13 American Woman Who Changed the World.  Definitely a great book that I will be reading to my daughter. 
I am also excited to start reading A Boy Called Bat.  This is a story of a boy on the autism spectrum who loves animals and is trying to prove to his mom that a skunk would make a good pet. 

Events this week:
Monday - School Council Meeting from 3:30-4:30
Wednesday - Bus Evacuation practices in the am, SST meeting 8:55-9:55, Staff Meeting 3:30-4:30
Thursday - First student council meeting 8:15, Andrew Green poetry presentation in 4th grade, Eyes on Owls presentation in 2nd grade

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I was glad that I was able to attend a Women in Leadership event Wednesday evening.  The woman who spoke was the former principal of the Worcester Voc School, first female to be in that role.  She shared lots of amazing inspiration, but I loved this slide that she shared: 
  • I popped into Mrs. Cragg's class and got to watch some 1st grade scientists measuring pumpkins, making predictions and testing whether they would float or sink. 
  • Thank you to everyone who has already donated school supplies or money.  We are still collecting for the school in Houston.  Love that I found this in the 3rd grade hallway! 
  • Mrs. Wallace and I had fun playing during extra recess on Friday.  Congrats to the students who earned SPARK tickets and were the lucky names that we drew! 
  • Thank you Luke Smith for a great afternoon of science activities and discussion!  Teachers were certainly engaged in lots of different challenges and explorations. 

Check it out:
I loved this blog post written by a high school principal, but many parts can be applied to elementary interactions.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Why Did You Get Rid of Computer Lab?

Principal ponderings...

Have you had a chance to pop in our new Maker Space?  Or have you at least been able to peek in through the window and see what's been going on?  Mrs. West and Mrs. Simeone have been helping the students with some pretty awesome creative projects.  Many teachers and parents have asked me, "Why did you get rid of the computer lab?"  Good question.  We certainly redesigned the space this summer.  We wanted a space where kids could have opportunities to create, collaborate, tinker, build, design, and so much more.  It is a place where kids can make things.  That could mean using technology or it could mean simply using tape and paper.  It's also a place where they can deconstruct things too!

We need to be helping our students develop critical thinking skills.  What does that mean?  Kids need to be able to be independent thinkers.  They need to be reflective.  They need to be able to generate ideas, solve problems, be inquisitive, fail and learn, argue a point, think rationally, collaborate with peers...the list could go on and on.  All of these skills are definitely not "taught" by sitting in front of a screen, going onto a website or making a presentation.  We will still be working on ways to have kids experience keyboarding and using devices, but that won't be done once a week for forty minutes anymore. Students need all of us to help them integrate proper technology use into the classroom environment on a daily basis.  When we had technology learning happening mainly in a separate room, a computer lab, we were sending the message that technology learning was separate from what students were learning in the classroom. And that is a message that we definitely do not want to send to any of our students.  Technology is a huge part of their world, so we need to make sure it's fully integrated into each child's school day.

I am so excited that our students are going to have the chance to learn critical thinking skills through the projects and activities that they do in MakerSpace this year.  Check out some of these video clips from a show called "Think, Make, Innovate."  Lots of great ideas for ways we can challenge our students!  I can't wait to see all of the new learning that will be happening this year.  Maybe soon we will be able to submit our own videos of what we are doing at FloRo!

Watch these kids figure out how to make a durable beanstalk out of newspaper.

Watch this challenge where the students had to use cardboard to make something wearable.

Watch the kids in this challenge create a zip line car that would transport an army man figurine from one place to another.

Currently reading:
Did you get some good new books from the book fair?  I did!  I was excited to get Katherine Applegate's new book, Wishtree.  I pretty much read it in one sitting.  Told through the perspective of a tree, this story tackles anti-Muslim bigotry.  It's a wonderful and important book to read to kids or let them read and discuss it with them.
I also purchased a picture book written by a favorite author of many, Nancy Tillman.  The book is called You're All Kinds of Wonderful and just like her popular On the Night You Were Born, this beautiful book has a wonderful message.  This time the message is that we are all unique and we each have our own "bells and whistles." 
Another book that I have been reading this past 2nd called I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness.  It is a great book for kids and adults to read and remember to take time to be in the here and now and not worry about yesterday or tomorrow.  As I have been reading it to 2nd graders, we have been taking some time to close our eyes, sense our surroundings, feel our breathing, and clear our minds.  It is should try it!  And read the book!

Events this week:
Monday - Columbus Day, No School
Tuesday - Curriculum Day, 8:30-9:45 @ PAC for speaker, 10:00-2:30 multi-part or committee work
Thursday - 3rd grade trip to Sturbridge Village
Friday - Elementary half day, 12:15 dismissal, Liz and Melissa @ SLT 8:30-11:00, Science work w/SU @ FR 1:00-3:15, Flu clinic at the Groton Public Library 3:00-6:00

Great things I noticed last week:

  • When I popped into Mrs. Pierantozzi's class, I saw writers making plans and trying out some different strategies that they had been talking about, such as showing instead of telling. 
  • I had fun randomly selecting names from the list of students who wrote to me this summer or at the beginning of the school year.  Lots of smiling faces when they were able to pick out a book and put it on my tab! 
  • Congrats to the 4th graders who were selected to serve as reps for student council!  It was a difficult choice with all of the well-planned applications.  Looking forward to seeing what great projects the students plan this year. 
  • When I walked into Mrs. McEvoy's class, I caught the beginning of a discussion about experimenting with beams and fulcrums. 
  • I heard Ms. McElroy's class doing some math and movement and I couldn't resist stopping in for a visit! 
  • One week of SPARK tickets and we had just over 200 students visit the office and sign our Wall of Fame!  

Check it out:
Check out this Ted Talk titled "Every child deserves a makerspace":