Monday, December 17, 2018

Don't Forget To Fill Your Cup!

Principal ponderings...
For my final post in my "how to make it the most wonderful time of the year all year long" series, I was inspired by a very smart lady.  She reminded me that if you are taking care of everyone else, you have to remember to take care of yourself.  As the image above says, in order to fill everyone else's cup, you need to make sure to fill your own cup first.  As educators, we are always trying to do everything that we can for our students.  We are responsible for them.  We need to take care or them.

If we want to make it the most wonderful time of the year all year long, then we need to make sure we are taking care of ourselves throughout the whole year as well.  Certainly this time of year, with a little bit of time off, we are all gifted with the opportunity to take a break from work, re-center ourselves, and return in the new year with a full cup.  But we need to make sure we are reminding ourselves and each other throughout the whole year to not always burn the candle at both ends.  You don't always need a winter break or a weekend to take care of yourself.  Think about how you can do something each day to fill your own cup.  Maybe you like to get up in the morning and workout or maybe you like to spend a few minutes in solitude clearing your head.  Maybe you like to listen to music in the car and belt out your favorite tunes.  Maybe you like to go to a place and sit and sip a coffee and people watch.  Maybe you like to go for a run and leave all of the stress behind you.  Maybe you like to put on some slippers and curl up on the couch with a good book.  Whatever it is, make sure that you focus on you and your well-being.

So what do you do to take care of yourself?  How do you fill your own cup?  As we go into the new year, think about how you can put some daily self-care habits in place.  When you are feeling good about yourself, your students will most certainly benefit.  

Currently reading:
I finished Ban This Book and definitely recommend it!  So many different book titles that adults and kids will recognize in the book.  And the story of an introverted little girl standing up for what she believes in is a great message.  As soon as I finished listening to that book, I added a new one to my Audible account: Educated.  I have heard so many people talk about and recommend this book so I decided I needed to check out this memoir.
Emerson and I have been opening up a new book each night; she looks forward to seeing what new bedtime story we will read!  We opened up a fun one the other night that I got from Usborne books...I love the selection they have.  This one is called Muddle and Match Fairy Tales.  You can see in the picture that the alliteration and use of adverbs, adjectives, and action verbs makes this a fun book to read and mix up the characters, but I was thinking that it's an awesome resource for our young writers. 

Events this week:
Monday - Books and Berries Book Swap in the conference room! Liz and Patty have a full day of reading in classrooms! Fire Dept will be delivering fire safety program all day to each grade level.
Tuesday - "Lettuce" Celebrate .- Salad Bar day! Grade 4 team meeting @ 8:00, Grade 5 team meeting @ 8:00, PTA Specialty Sandwich Shop Fundraiser from 4:00-8:00
Wednesday - Wellness Wednesday and/or Bling It On - you choose! Grade 3 team meeting @ 8:00
Thursday - Snack Cart! Child Study Team meeting @ 10:50
Friday - Pajama Day - Paws Pantry Spirit Day, breakfast from the PTA

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Even though I did not get to witness it firsthand, I heard that 5th graders had fun in science showing that gas takes up space and has weight. 
  • Always interesting to learn from Scholastic News...had an interesting conversation in the pod about how much certain collectibles, like Barbies and Beanie Babies, are worth. 
  • While it's tough to be out of the building for a whole day, I enjoyed learning alongside a Wachusett team at the S3 Academy...excited about the possibility of systemic student support! 
  • I caught some 4th graders snacking and problem solving for Math Olympiad. 
  • I am working on putting together a video of all of the photos and video clips from the concerts.  But I wanted to thank Hannah, Diane and Dan for their collaboration and hard work getting everyone ready for some amazing concerts.  The students sounded wonderful, looked awesome, and parents and grandparents kept saying how much they enjoyed the performances.  Kudos to all for the wonderful winter concerts!
Check it out:
Some humor to carry you through this week...

Monday, December 10, 2018

Less Kinks and More Peaks

Principal ponderings...
In the spirit of trying to show how we can make it the most wonderful time of the year all school year long, I have talked about creating great classroom libraries.  I have also talked about how the classroom environment can help make your students want to come running into school each day.  For this week's post, I want to focus on the moments you create for your students.  Last year, I read a book and fell in love with the message.  It is actually not an education book, but I feel like it's one that educators should read.  The book is called The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath.

There are so many amazing quotes and stories in this book, but the one I thought of to share in this week's post is...
“In life, we can work so hard to get the kinks out that we forget to put the peaks in.”

Especially during this time of year, doesn't it seem like we are just trying to get all of those kinks out?  We are reactionary.  We are putting out little fires.  We feel like we are running on that hamster wheel with no way to get off and take a break.  Well, if we feel that way, let's think of how that feels for our students who are watching us try to get the kinks out. 

What if we stopped running for a minute, took a breath, and thought about how to put some peaks in?  In the book Power of Moments, the basic idea is that our life is full of moments, but there are certain moments we remember much more than others.  Think about your experience in school.  What memories stick out for you?  I remember when my 6th grade teacher let me go into a 1st grade classroom and read them a story and do an activity that tied into that story.  I even remember what I was wearing because the story was about panda bears so I dressed in black and white.  I don't remember what we did in math class that day.  I also remember when I was in the 10th grade, my English teacher surprised us one day and had us listen to different records that were produced during the time period that we were reading novels from.  I don't remember what I ate for lunch that day.  I also remember when I was in 1st grade and my teacher let me share a poem with the whole class that I had written about my baby brother being born.  I don't remember what I did on the playground that day.

The point is...our life is full of moments...many of them are forgettable and forgotten.  But then there are moments that because of the situation, the action, the events, the way they happen, those moments are unforgettable and stick with us long after they happen.  We need to hit the pause button for a minute when dealing with getting the kinks out.  We need to be putting more peaks into our classrooms for our students.

Need some more encouragement to shift from kinks to peaks?  Here's another great quote from the book:

“If you’re always in a life vest, you don’t know if you can swim. Sometimes you have to take the life vest off — with someone still standing by to offer support and rescue — and say, ‘Let’s see what happens.'”

Who is ready to take off the life vest?  If we want to make it the most wonderful time of the year all year long, then we might need to take some risks, try something new, approach things from a different perspective.  I love this thought from the book...

“In many organizations, our daily obligations — the emails, the meetings, the to-do lists — can numb us to the meaning of our work.”

What is the meaning of our work?  To create amazing learning experiences for our students.  We want them to remember what we share with them.  We want them to think back and say, "I remember when my teacher had us do this..."

Need a starting point?  In The Power of Moments, they say: “Just by disrupting routines, we can create more peaks.”  I remember when I taught 2nd grade.  After the first year, I reflected on my teaching and I thought...I am a horrible teacher of writing.  So I spent the summer devouring everything book, workshop, discussion about the teaching of writing.  And I knew that I needed to hook my students in right from the beginning.  So I disrupted the routine...I set up a sticky note countdown to the day we would officially become writers and launch writer's workshop.  My students ate it up!  They could not wait for that day to come, one even telling me that she didn't think she would sleep the night before the big day.  There were many other things I did on the official start date, like a ribbon cutting ceremony into their special "used" binders, playing the theme to 'Rocky', and even having them take a "writing pledge."  And you know what happened?  They wrote and wrote and wrote!  They were so excited about writing and that enthusiasm continued throughout the whole year.  I created a peak.  A moment that was unforgettable.  That girl who couldn't sleep the night before? She recently found me and told me that she was in college studying to be a children's book illustrator.  She told me she remembered how I encouraged her writing and her illustrating.  That peak I stuck with her.  And it all started by disrupting a routine.

So take some time to stop thinking about working out the kinks and decide...
How will you start putting more peaks in?  What unforgettable learning experiences can you create in your classroom?

Currently reading:
I enjoyed reading a really cute new version of Jack B. Nimble.  This one is called Jack B. Ninja.  This rhyming picture book is one that many young readers will enjoy, especially because there are so many students who love ninjas .  I really liked the surprise twist when I found who the "bandits" were in the story!
A friend of mine who is an early childhood principal in Oklahoma and a fellow book lover, Julie Bloss, recommended that I read Ban This Book.  I downloaded it to my Audible account and am enjoying listening while driving.  Love the story so far...a 4th grader who does not agree when a parent starts banning books like From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, the Goosebumps series, Are You There God, It's Me Margaret, Junie B. Jones series, and many others.  So she starts the BBLL...the Banned Book Locker Library.  Can't wait to finish this one!  And order some copies so we have it in our library. 
I was excited to get a new book in the mail on Saturday...yes, books arrive in my mailbox pretty much every week. ;) . The book I got is called Reclaiming Our Calling and it's written by a principal friend of mine from Minnesota, Dr. Brad Gustafson.  I love the full title of the book...Reclaiming Our Calling: Hold on to the Heart, Mind, and Hope of Education, and I love that Brad talks about the 4 passions of the profession.  Really excited to dive into this gem!
Events this week:
**All this week it's the BOGO sale at the Scholastic Warehouse in Clinton!
Monday - Jeans Day!  And bundle up with a more plaid, flannel, or sweater...less time planning out your outfit means more time for you.  Last day for Holiday Child collection
Tuesday - Who needs a hug?  The chocolate hugs and kisses version will be available for a sweet treat.  Kindergarten and 1st grade team meetings @ 3:45
Wednesday - Coffee and Cocoa day! Liz, Lisa, Kate and Lynn at the S3 Academy (Systemic Student Support) all day, 2nd grade team meeting @ 8:00, Patty at team chair meeting from 8:00-10:00,
Thursday - Soap-fully a germ free gift day! Liz @ Curriculum meeting from 7:45-10:00, Grade 3-5 concert for the whole school @ 2:00, Mayo Holiday Party at Patty's house after school!
Friday - Are you ready for an elf hunt?!  And breakfast provided by the office staff?  Grade 3-5 Winter Concert for families @ 10:00, Grade K-2 Winter Concert for families @ 2:00

Yikes...busy week, I'm tired just typing it out!  I think we can, I think we can, I think we can...

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I saw some collaborative math work focused on learning about division in 4V! 
  • Cait took a big risk and shared her passion for passion projects, explaining about Genius Hour to the rest of the staff.  Thanks for sharing and thanks to those who are wanting to learn more about it. 
  • Thanks to Kris Dorogi and her K friends, as well as the PTA, our marker recycling program is going strong! 
  • I stopped by pajama day in KM and saw lots of learning through play happening...wish I could have played all day!  Actually...did you know there is a thing called Global School Play Day?!  Read more about it here and maybe we can think about bringing this to Mayo!
Check it out:
Interesting summary of lots of educational research from 2018:
Check out this video of a poem called "The Crayon Box That Talked."

And to put a smile on your face...

Monday, December 3, 2018

If The Walls Could Talk...

Principal ponderings...
Last week I wrote about how we make it the most wonderful time of the year all school year long.  I started off with one of my passions, the classroom library.  This week I want to talk about another part of the classroom.  Actually I want to talk about the whole classroom environment, the physical space.  I love the image posted above...what exactly is your classroom saying?  Just like we should create classroom libraries that get kids excited about school, we should think about our classroom environment; is it a space that makes kids want to be there?  Think about when you have set up a room in your house, and you have seating that you love and lighting and decorations.  Do you love being in that space?  

Our kids are in their classrooms for a long chunk of time.  We tend to forget about what the space looks like and often times we set it up with convenience in mind.  We don't exactly have tons of room and then we have to create an area remembering that it will be filled with 20 or so bodies on a regular basis.  What works for us when we set up the space at the beginning of the year might not be what works best for our students.  And by the way, there is no manual for how to design a classroom.  There are so many options for creative classroom spaces, options that certainly weren't available when we were in school.  I remember every room looking exactly the same.  Thank goodness it doesn't have to be that way now.  

Maybe you have already added some different areas to your room or maybe you have experimented with flexible seating.  Maybe you are not ready, but you need some inspiration.  Take a look at these resources for ideas...

If you simply Google search flexible seating, the blog posts, articles, images, stories are endless.  Be careful, you could get drawn in for a very long time searching me, it may or may not have happened for me on more than one occasion!  The important thing is you should not be trying to recreate something you see.  You should simply start by looking around your classroom and asking yourself...what is my classroom saying?  How is the physical space of my classroom helping with my students' learning process?

If your classroom walls could talk, what would they be saying?

Currently reading:
I was very excited to read a new book with Emerson Saturday night.  She has a special book tree in her room and each night she gets to unwrap one book and read it for bedtime.  Since it was December 1st, the small book on top was the 'star.'  Do you remember the Little Miss books?  Well, the one we read on Saturday night was Little Miss Sparkle.  Lots of fun, and we are looking forward to reading new books during this month's bedtime!
And then on a completely different level...I read the raw and honest graphic memoir, Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka.  He is the author who wrote and illustrated the Lunch Lady series.  He also did the popular Star Wars Jedi Academy series.  Hey, Kiddo is the true story of how he grew up the son of an addict and was raised by his grandparents.  Jarrett grew up in Worcester.  This is definitely not a book for any of our elementary students, but you might be interested in reading it.

Events this week:
Tuesday - Child Study Team meeting @ 8:30
Wednesday - Wellness Wednesday! Staff Meeting @ 8:00
Thursday - Start of 'The 12 Days Before Winter Break!', Liz at MSAA Board Meeting

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I caught a 4th grader working on his drawing skills during snack. 
  • I had a productive planning meeting with a 4th grade group who is putting together interactive magazines to go into the library starting this week. 
  • I stopped by a table in the purple pod and found some 5th graders excited to talk and write about the book The Truth as Told By Mason Buttle
  • I watched as 4th graders discussed and practiced decomposing in math class. 
  • Conversations with kindergartners are great...especially at lunch time! 
  • BINGO Night a huge success!  Lots of fun, lots of pizza, lots of people, lots of number and letter calling, and then a kindergartener and a 5th grader won principal for the day! Way to go Robert and Jenna! 
Check it out:
Here is the Ted Talk by Jarrett Krosoczka called "How a Boy Became an Artist."

Monday, November 26, 2018

It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Principal ponderings...

It was about 5:30 am on the last morning of Thanksgiving break, I was sleeping in my bed, and then suddenly I opened my eyes and saw a little face standing next to my bed.  She was just the right height to be staring back at me while I kept my head on my pillow.  I closed my eyes thinking maybe I was dreaming, but I was pulled out of any thought of sleeping longer when tiny hands started cupping my cheeks and my early bird started whispering.

"Mommy, is it Christmas?  Is Santa coming today?" she asked hopefully.

And I was awake.  We are not even out of November yet.  How in the world will I explain the concept of month so that she will understand when in her mind everything happened either "last night" or will be happening "today after my nap"?!  We had purchased our tree this weekend and had started lugging out the boxes of decorations.  Emerson's excitement and enthusiasm amped up even more.  Hard to believe that's possible, but I have seen it in action.  Watching her take out every single ornament and be celebrating and cheering and saying "yesssss" with every new discovery is pretty awesome I have to admit.  Living through the eyes of a child when holiday time comes around really does make it the most wonderful time of the year...even if we still have a whole month to go. (Not to mention fitting her birthday in the middle of all that!)

Watching her and thinking about bottling up all the excitement, of course, I started thinking about our students and getting them excited.  I don't just mean excited for this time of year.  I mean how do we make it so the most wonderful time of year is the whole school year?  While I would love for my little one to sleep in at some point, I do love that she has such a curiosity and eagerness for life that gets her jumping out of bed pretty much every morning.  What if all of our students were that curious and eager to jump into your classroom each day?

I believe it's completely possible for us to create opportunities, environments, interactions that will have our students running into class in the morning and not wanting to leave at the end of the day.  There is a catch.  Just like finding the tree, unpacking all of the decoration boxes, preparing for family visits, cooking holiday meals, and everything else that comes with this time of year takes time and work, so will rethinking and redesigning your classrooms and your teaching.  It will take work, so let's roll up our sleeves and get started!

I have a series of posts to share during the next few weeks that will focus on one thing to rethink or maybe just reiterate something you are doing to help make it the most wonderful time of the year now and all year.

This week, I want to focus on classroom libraries.  I have actually written about classroom libraries several times; it's definitely a topic near and dear to my heart.  If you want you can read a post about building an effective library here or another one with resources for what your library should include here.  After getting the book Game Changer: Book Access for All Kids in the mail on Friday, I got the itch to write more about classroom libraries!  If you have been in my office, then you know how I feel about having plenty of books within arms reach of kids.  I have seen their faces when they first come into my office and see all of the books or when they bring a friend who hasn't seen my office and they say "see, I told you she has a lot of books."  Of course, building up a library takes time and money, but it's all worth it when you have kids who can't wait to browse though your library and get excited when they get to choose books.  Not to mention, books just make every room look better, don't you think?!

Check out Colby Sharp's classroom library in this video tour.  He is the co-author of Game Changer and currently a 5th grade teacher.  His classroom library is my dream library.  I love that the majority of his room is all about the books.  When you think about it, our job is to create thinking human beings.  Reading is thinking.  Therefore, the more readers we create, the more thinkers we create.  And we can't create thinking readers without giving kids access to books, all the time, wherever they look.

I know that books cost money.  I am always on the hunt for ways to get books cheap or even free.  I also support writing grants or trying to use a site such as Donors Choose to fund classroom libraries.  As you all know, Scholastic Book Clubs is a great way to get more books.  I am sure some of you have some good ideas for how to get books.  If you have ideas, share with your colleagues!  And as we begin to go into budget season, funding for classroom libraries and our school library is certainly something I am always thinking about.

I have used a version of this rubric with teachers in the past.  You can try it out and do a little self assessing of your classroom library.  Now that you know your students really well, you know more about what your library needs to look like for them.  And you can see if there are book titles, authors, genres that you need more of.  It's a good time of year to build a wishlist and think of different ways to make more books accessible to your students.  An activity I liked to do when I was a 2nd grade teacher was have the students help me redesign the layout of the classroom library.  They helped look through and weed out books we did not need.  They helped decide how we would organize the bins.  They helped make the labels.  And in the end, it was truly their library.  They took pride in and felt ownership of their library.

How can we make every day the most wonderful time of the year in school?  One way is to start looking at how your classroom library can help get kids excited.

How does your library measure up on the excitement scale?!

Currently reading:
I read a cute new picture book from Scholastic called The Three Little Superpigs.  It's a sequel to the classic tale of The Three Little Pigs.  Will the wolf finally outsmart the pigs?  Read to find out!
I also read a great nonfiction picture book called The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal.  Lots of good facts shared and the sun's jobs are explained, but the author does it in a fun way that will have kids (and adults) of all ages enjoying this book. 
I was very excited to get some mail the day after Thanksgiving.  It was a copy of the brand new book written by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp called Game Changer!: Book Access for All Kids.  I have already read half of it, so good!

Events this week:
Monday - School Council Meeting @ 4:00, Bemis Wreath Making w/PTA 6:30-8:00 in the cafeteria
Tuesday - Grade 4 Team Meeting @ 8:00, Hearing and Vision Re-screening
Thursday - Liz @ PLT Meeting 7:45-10:00
Friday - Liz out of the building, PTA Family BINGO Night @ 5:30

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I saw 4th graders starting these Mexican painting projects.  Looking forward to seeing the colorful final products! 
  • I caught some 4th graders collaborating, shopping online, and trying to plan a Thanksgiving meal that would cost as close to $100 as possible. Wish I had them around when I was planning for the meal at our house! 

  • I popped into 2nd grade and found some more collaborating happening as students were talking with each other and answering comprehension questions. 
  • 3P and KL were the BoxTop winners so they each got an extra recess with me!  One involved a Just Dance dance party and the other involved sliding in snow! 

  • I found lots of buddies getting together.  3rd graders were making and flying paper airplanes with kindergarteners, and 1st graders were doing some turkey math with 5th graders.  So nice to see different grades having fun together! 

Check it out:
With the new book Game Changer!, there is an online resource site with some great video clips from Colby and Donalyn.  You will need this sentence from the last line of the introduction to get access: "Together we can provide every child with the book access and literacy opportunities that they deserve."!.html

How about this image to inspire us for today?

Monday, November 19, 2018

Grateful for a Plate-full

Principal ponderings...
With Thanksgiving this week, full plates are certainly on my mind.  I love hosting the family at our house, and every year we end up with so much food.  We are able to fill plates and leftover containers, and I am certainly grateful for that.  But this time of year, I also think about the full plates that we have at school.  As an educator, we have so many things that we are responsible for, so many little faces that we need to answer to, so many tasks that we need to complete.  In fact, I often have this image of myself trying to keep all of the full plates (there are definitely many full plates in my life) balanced and spinning...
Slight problem with that image...first of all, heels?!  Second, doubtful that I am wearing a dress and no way my hair looks perfectly styled.  But the plates...yes, those are definitely there, overflowing and spinning, sometimes in all different directions.  But I am actually grateful for all of those plates.  We all have a lot going on in our lives.  We all keep our plates full.  As educators, we keep those full plates spinning and spinning.  And this time of year, it's important that we stop and appreciate those full plates.  We have so much responsibility as educators; we have all these little humans counting on us and all of the parents of the little humans counting on us.  It can be overwhelming to think about all of that responsibility, but I choose to be grateful for it and to let it inspire me and fuel my fire to keep at it.  To borrow from a favorite little blue fish character...I am going to choose to just keep spinning, just keep spinning.

I love this video that I came across where the father in the family recognizes that we have so much to be grateful for, so many gifts that are a part of our lives every day. 

I am truly grateful for my plate-full life.  

How about you?  What are you grateful for?

Currently reading:
I always love reading Patricia MacLachlan's books and this weekend I read her short chapter book titled The Poet's Dog.  It's a touching story about dealing with loss and finding love and connections.  The story takes place during a winter storm and involves a dog and two children.  I love that there is some poetry mixed in, and I also love the idea that only poets and children can hear dogs speaking.
I also reread some Thanksgiving books to try to select the one that I will read Monday night.  Here are some great turkey day books... Now to decide which one to do for my bedtime story read aloud?!

Events this week:
Monday - Bedtime Story at 7:00pm with Principal Garden
Tuesday -  Grade 5 team meeting @ 8:00 am, PTA Claytime Event in Cafeteria at 5:30pm
Wednesday - Thanksgiving Break, no school
Thursday - Happy Thanksgiving!  No School
Friday - Thanksgiving Break, no school

Great things I noticed last week:
Short week and I was out sick for part of it, but caught a few things...

  • Thank you for all of the food donations that came in during the week! 
  • Caught some 5th graders working together and talking about the book Hatchet
  • Managed to make it to a 3rd grade gym class...playing different versions of ball game. 

Check it out:
A good friend who I respect and appreciate wrote this amazing post that I wanted to share with all of you:
And I came across this gem of a post the other day:
So I just discovered this awesomeness...astronauts reading in space?!