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?!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Essential PLC for You and Me!

Principal ponderings...
During the PD day last week, administrators from across the district came together to focus on work around PLCs.  PLCs, or Professional Learning Communities is not a new concept, but it is often one that gets misinterpreted.  Schools will say, "Oh yes, we do PLCs."  But if we are truly incorporating PLCs into our work, then PLCs are not a thing, they are a part of our culture, they are how we operate, how we work together to always do what is best for kids.  I love this graphic that I came across in my online reading this weekend.  It shows the six essential characteristics of a PLC...

1. A focus on learning - So this might be the time when you are reading and say "duh, we are in the business of education, of course there is a focus on learning."  But I will tell you that we often need to check ourselves.  I know that when I was a student, the focus was not on learning.  I had some really great teachers, and that's what they did - they taught.  They focused on teaching, not so much what I was learning.  I know that when I was a teacher, there were times where I thought...yes, I rocked it as a teacher just now!  And then I had some students who did not get it, even with my awesome teaching, they did not learn it.  What?!  I had to shift my thinking so that I was always focused on what students were learning.  I loved a quote that I heard once from a presenter, "Teaching without learning is not teaching, it's just presenting."  It's always good to give yourself a little self check every now and I focused on their learning?

2. Collaborative culture with a focus on learning for all - There's a lot packed in this little characteristic.  Collaborative teams working interdependently.  Gone are the days of being a teacher on your own island.  You can't do it alone and you don't have to.  We need to work together as grade level teams, vertical teams, building teams, and any different team combination you can think of.  And that part about learning for all...that is the important part, that's what drives our collaborative process.  We need to figure out how to reach every single learner, and we need to do this work together.

3. Collective inquiry into best practice and current reality - We want our students to be curious and always questioning so we too need to be inquiring about what we are doing and how we can improve and grow so that all of our students improve and grow.  There are 4 key questions that should guide our inquiry process...

  • What are our students supposed to know and do?
  • How do we know when our students have learned?
  • What do we do when our students have not learned?
  • What do we do when our students have learned the content?
These questions should be driving our conversations.  They should be helping us look at our current practice to ensure that we are utilizing best practice for all of our students and to make sure that in times when we aren't, because that will happen, how are we making adjustments to our practice so that our students are continuing to moving forward.

4. Action orientation - I love this one! I am an action-oriented kind of gal!  Too many times as educators, we form teams, committees, planning groups, etc, and we meet and we talk and we meet and we talk and maybe we meet and complain and then we meet some more.  And then nothing really gets accomplished.  I love nothing more than making checklists and then being able to cross off the item or check it as completed.  We need to have the same mindset when we are meeting to discuss teaching and learning and problem solving for students.  We can think about things and plan and have ideas and a vision, but at the end of the day, we need to make sure that those all get turned into action.

5. A Commitment to continuous improvement - So this little blurb in the graphic above might just be my favorite..."a persistent disquiet with the status quo."  I'm thinking that's bumper stick or t-shirt worthy.  In education, we have to be willing to not just do what has always been done.  Status quo does not help our various learners.  I am all for making some major noise about this, but I'll settle for disquiet.  Over 20 years ago, I got into education because I thought there had to be a better way of working with kids.  And then 11 years ago, I became a principal because I still thought there had to be a better way of running a school and making a difference for every learner.  The idea of building a PLC culture gets me excited because when we all commit to continuous learning, the students always win.

6. Results orientation - I know I talked about being action oriented.  If we are action oriented in our process and in our conversations and daily work, then we will certainly see results.  We won't just be dreaming about students succeeding, we will be celebrating with them when they do succeed!

Which one of these PLC characteristics are you ready to focus on?

Currently reading:
I am still enjoying reading The Serpent's Secret - lots of action in this book!
Emerson and I go to the library every Saturday and this week she picked out Pinkalicious.   I know this book, but it was actually the first time I had read the picture book.  Since Emerson and I love cupcakes, we certainly laughed thinking about if we both turned pink! 
I am continuing to work on finishing up The Confidence Code, The Other Wes Moore, and Sparks in the Dark: Lessons, Ideas, and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us.  There are just too many books to read and never enough time!  I want to finish these up because I have many that have been recommended including this one: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus.  Kids and adults have recommended this one, and I have heard the author is great to connect with.  It's about a 13 year old girl who was born without arms but that does not stop her from doing anything. 
Events this week:
**PTA Thanksgiving Food Collection all week
Monday - Veterans Day, No School
Tuesday - World Kindness Day! Kindergarten team meeting @ 3:45, 1st grade team meeting @ 3:45, School Topics Program for ELL Parents from 5:30-7:00, PTA Meeting @ 7:00 in the library - Liz to speak about school safety
Wednesday - Wellness Wednesday! Grade 2 team meeting @ 8:00, Grade 3 team meeting @ 8:00
Thursday - Liz at Curriculum Meeting 7:45-10:00
Friday - Fire Safety Program in the library, PTA Family BINGO Night @ 5:30

Great things I noticed last week:

  • 2nd graders honored Veterans, thanking them in writing and reading all about Veterans Day. 

  • I also got to see some 2nd graders finding comfortable writing spots around the room. 
  • Mrs. Tibbetts' 2nd graders were writing about reading, finding text evidence to support their writing about characters. 
  • 5th graders in Mrs. Olson's class were working on some book talks and some were writing alternate endings. 
  • Made my day when I was feeling under the weather, and a 1st grader brought me a card and told me she was grateful for me. 
  • Such an awesome time at our staff meeting on Wednesday with Scholastic!  Are you ready to book talk and get our students booktalking?! 

Check it out:
Did you know it's World Kindness Day on Tuesday?!  Here are the links to Scholastic resources for the day:
A video clip to go along with kindness:
If anyone wants to borrow any kindness themed books...come take a look in my office!
Check out this link for lots of video clips of book talks:
And another link from Scholastic with more book talks:

Monday, November 5, 2018

Extra, Extra! Read All About These Resources!

Principal ponderings...

I have read about, favorited, and researched several different resources over the past few weeks.  And now it's time to share some of those resources here!

Check out this awesome post that I found on Twitter last week; it has 20 formative assessment tools for your classroom:

This next resource is epic.  No seriously, the site is literally 'getepic.'  Educators have free access to thousands of kids' books.  Check it out:

I just shared this cool resource with Liz Hilton, but I wanted to make sure that everyone knew about it.  It's called and it has all sorts of lower level books that students can have read to them.  The have have the story written in English or Spanish and you can have the story read to you in English or many other languages.

Ok, don't get overwhelmed by this post; it's the 90 hottest edtech tools according to education experts: .  You don't need to read or explore every single one...just pick one that catches your eye.  Some that I love...GoNoodle, ThingLink, and Padlet.

I have not played around with this one much, but I have heard educators recommend this before: . There is a free component and the purpose is to make lessons even more engaging for your students.

I am sharing too many resources at one time.  Don't be intimidated.  It only takes one new tool, one new resource.  Our students deserve for us to step out of our comfort zone and try something new in order to expose them to new ways to learn, new ways to collaborate, and new ways to share what they know.  Happy exploring!

Currently reading:
I finished reading Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson.  This is a quick read, but has such an important message that will stay with you long after you finish reading.  She tackles tough topics related to racism, immigration, and the idea of the American dream through the eyes of 5th graders.
On a lighter note, Emerson and I enjoyed reading one of the Mo Willems books that we got from the book fair, I Lost My Tooth!  There are tons of funny squirrel characters and  not only does the book have stories, it also has jokes, quizzes and some research facts mixed into it.  Here is quick little video clip promoting the book...

And he has said this is Book 1 so it looks likes we can look forward to more of these books!
I also started reading the book The Serpent's Secret.  Several students and principal friends have recommended this book so I am excited to dive into it next! 

Events this week:
Tuesday - Election Day, No School for students, PD Day for teachers
Wednesday - Staff Meeting @ 8:00 in the library
Friday - Report cards are available to parents

Great things I noticed last week:

  • 4th graders were working on creating more interesting intros to their opinion pieces...which is better a dog or a cat for a pet? 
  • 2nd graders found the spot that worked best for them as they focused on writing and editing small moment stories. 
  • Mayo was so lucky to have April Jones Prince, a local author, spend the day with us.  She shared many of her books and her experience as a writer.  My favorite was her idea box where she even had a napkin that she had jotted ideas down on and tucked into her idea box.  She donated her Twenty-One Elephants book to our library, and she might be donating some birthday books! 
  • Of course the highlight of the week was the Mayo Literacy Parade!  So many books represented and displayed!  We had perfect weather, and all of our families seemed to have a great time.   Here are just a few of the photos from the day...

Check it out:
I can't remember if I already shared this video with you, but it is one of my favorites and deserves to be watched and rewatched many times!