Monday, April 29, 2019

Stuff 'n Things

Principal ponderings...

As I was driving home from yet another 4-year-old birthday party this weekend, I heard an interesting piece of trivia on the radio.  The person talking on the radio came on and said that apparently the average American home has 300,000 things in it.  Holy cow, that's a lot of stuff.  I started trying to wrap my head around that thought.  And then I realized...our dining room/play room probably has at least 150,000 things in it...with most of those items being Barbie dolls, princess dolls, doll clothing, and teeny tiny doll shoes that never ever seem to stay on the Barbie dolls' feet.

We do like our stuff, don't we?  I don't know if any of you have been sucked into the Marie Kondo series on Netflix?  I certainly lost a few afternoons binge watching several episodes and thinking...yes, I can transform my house too!  I have tried out some of her techniques and been happy to get rid of some stuff and organize some things better, like my t-shirts (you know I have too many t-shirts); I do like the new method of folding and storing them in a bin in my closet.  Problem is there's lots of other stuff in my closet besides my one organized container of t-shirts.  But baby steps.  Of course, you know Marie Kondo and I might have to have a stand off about the amount of books that is the "right number" to keep in your house...

As I was thinking about all of the stuff that we acquire and keep in our house, I then started thinking about all of the stuff that we acquire and keep in our classrooms and in the school.  As educators, we too love our stuff!  It is spring.  Which means everyone starts thinking about spring cleaning.  Now I am certainly not going to go all Marie Kondo on you, but I do know first hand that after an almost full year of school, a lot of things end up in our classrooms.  It's a good idea to try the Marie Kondo method...does this thing spark joy for my students?  Is this stuff necessary for learning?  Do I need to keep everything in my room and is it helping my students learn?

There is still so much to do and you have so many days left to have an impact on our kids.  We have seven weeks left to do amazing work.  Even more reason to make sure that the environment that you are in for the next seven weeks is one that sparks joy, encourages learning, and leaves both you and your students feeling good each day.  Trust me, I need to take my own advice.  If anyone has seen my table in my office...or seen the place where the table is located...I know it's somewhere under the piles of paperwork!  And I will be vulnerable and share a classroom pile story with you.  I was teaching 2nd grade, and it was about this time of year, maybe closer to the end of May.  I had a counter in my classroom that was on one wall and above the counter was wall cabinets.  I may or may not have acquired a lot of stuff on that counter.  Books, papers, piles, things, trinkets, more piles, and lots of paper.  I remember that I would just keep moving things to the counter and suddenly it was completely covered!  I was having parents in for a showcase of student work.  There was no way I could organize and clear off the counter.  Well there was a way...but I was just not mentally ready to do it.  So what did I do?  Well we were studying insects so I covered my piles with a giant packaging paper ant pile.  I made it look like a giant anthill complete with die cut ants climbing the pile and student writing attached to the anthill.  Not my proudest moment of scrambling to cover up my disorganization, but at least it got us through lots of parents in the room...completely unaware of what was lurking just below the packaging paper surface.  

After that experience, I vowed to work harder to keep my stuff more under control.  For me, I needed to schedule in time to simply do a check in my room.  Was the environment one that kids could come into every day and feel good spending so many hours in?  Was it a place that I wanted to be in all day?  Did all of the stuff and things have a purpose and need to be there?  If not, did I have a plan to store it, use it or toss it?

As you plan for these last few weeks, don't forget to think about your classroom...will it spark joy for your students over the next seven weeks?

Currently reading:
I finished up the graphic novel Unicorn of Many Hats.  Certainly a funny, cute read for 2nd or 3rd graders.  There is some great vocabulary included, along with a glossary at the end of the book.  I am in the middle of a young adult book (definitely not for our age students) called Wasted Pretty.  I am excited to be reading this brand new book because the new author happens to be my roommate from college!  So proud of her for writing and publishing her first novel.
I am also excited to be reading The Confidence Code for Girls.  I have read the adult version of this book, and now I am looking forward to seeing how the authors discuss this important topic with a focus on upper elementary/middle school girls.  I am actually ordering several copies and running a lunch time book club for some of our 5th grade girls who will definitely benefit from reading and discussing this book.

Events this week:
**Children's Book Week all week!
Monday - Girls on the Run @ 3:45
Tuesday - Grade 4 team meeting @ 8:00, CST Meeting @ 8:30, Grade 2 States of Matter presentation in the gym @ 9:20
Wednesday - Staff Meeting @ 8:00, 5th Grade Math MCAS, 4:00 Practice 5K for Girls on the Run!
Thursday - Sound Program for Grade 1 in yellow pod, May 13 PD Sign up opens up at 4:30 in TeachPoint, Liz G out of the building for MSAA Board Meetings in Franklin
Friday - 5th Grade Math MCAS, 4th grade field trip to New England Aquarium

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I was lucky enough to be able to cover in 3P one morning last week.  The students were reading two different texts about young kids in the American Revolution and comparing and contrasting the two main characters.  Some great collaboration and discussion happening in all of the groups!

  • I popped into music and heard the 3rd graders practicing and learning some new songs for their spring concert.  It's going to awesome...or should I say "Everything is Awesome!"?? 
  • I don't have many pictures to show it, but I was impressed with how focused and determined our 3rd graders were last week during their first sessions with MCAS.  They tried their best.  They spent time checking and reviewing.  I was super proud of all of them.  They definitely earned their weekend to relax!  As I sat proctoring one friend, I couldn't help catching her in action...

Check it out:
Loved this librarian mom's response to the reading challenge that her daughter's school was doing:

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Little Bit of Pixie Dust

Principal ponderings...
I just spent a week on a giant ship that I am pretty sure is fueled almost entirely by pixie dust.  Every day, every interaction with the staff on the boat, was filled with magic.  You can't do a Disney experience and not come away believing that anything is possible.  We saw lots of great shows throughout the week, but my favorite was the last night, a show called "Disney Dreams."  This was a compilation of songs and scenes from several different Disney shows such as "The Little Mermaid," "Frozen," and "The Lion King."  It was all happened as a little girl was spending time with Peter Pan, trying to be convinced to believe in herself, believe in her dreams, so that she could fly.  Of course in the end, she did the unbelievable on stage and flew all around the stage.  As I watched the show and watched my mesmerized daughter watching that moment in the show, and thought back on our week, I was overwhelmed with emotion and fought back some tears.  I know what was behind making that actor fly on stage.  The practice, the equipment, the rehearsals, the lighting, the designing.  And all of the scenes leading up that moment and all of the work it took to produce those scenes in order to get to that moment.  But my daughter saw that moment very differently.  What she saw was magic happening right in front of her.  She saw a little girl, someone just like her, magically fly in the air.  She saw the power of a little pixie dust change the impossible to possible. 
And it wasn't just during that show that she experienced the power of a little pixie dust.  Whether it was real Disney princesses kneeling down to get to her level and have a conversation with her or give her the biggest hugs or whether it was the waiter showing her a different magic trick every night or the even the glass elevators that she loved to ride in and narrate for anyone riding in them what was going on as we passed every level of the ship.  Pixie dust was all around us.  I saw all of the work and dedication and hustle of the crew and the expert design of the ship.  That's the pixie dust that I saw.  But what Emerson saw was magic, everywhere she looked.

As educators, I think we need to remember the pixie dust.  We are coming to the last section of our marathon school year.  It's going to feel like a sprint during these last few weeks, but we need to remember to pace ourselves, not tire ourselves out, and we need to remember the pixie dust.  Think back to August when we came together and said we were going on an adventure.  Everyone was refreshed from summer, excited to set up their classrooms and meet their new students.  And we even kicked off the school year with some special pixie dust, a countdown and confetti cannons.  Just like with Emerson on the ship, I have watched all of the hard work, patience, dedication that goes into creating lessons, engaging students, and making the school day run.  But the students don't see that.  Hopefully what they see is the magic of learning that you all make happen.  It really is magic that you are doing.  You take a student who does not know all of the letter sounds and then one day he is reading words and books.  You show a student how to divide a number line into fractions and then the light bulb goes off and she gets it and she is able to explain to a friend how that works.  You mention a concept and then students become passionate about learning more and they do their own research at home and share their creations with you.  All of those experiences and so many more...that's magic!  And we get to create these magical moments every day.

When things aren't going as planned or when you are tired or when a student makes a bad choice, remember the pixie dust.  Reach into your pocket and sprinkle that stuff everywhere.  Remember that our students don't see behind the scenes, they don't see all of the hard work.  But we want them to see the magic.  Try to stop and see school through your students' eyes.  What do you want them to see? Use the power of the pixie dust.  Make the impossible possible. 

What magical moments will you create today?

Currently reading:
When you are out on a boat with no internet or laptop, you have a lot of time to read!  One of the books that I enjoyed reading over vacation was The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise.  This book is a heartwarming story about healing after loss and finding family and kindness in the most unexpected places.  Definitely recommend this book, especially for 5th graders. 
I also discovered a great easy chapter book series that I think many of our 2nd and 3rd graders might enjoy.  I heard the author read a chapter from one of the books in the series, and I knew I needed to get myself a copy!  The one I read is the first in the series, called The Infamous Ratsos.  It's about two brothers who want desperately to be tough, but really end up being good, kind guys.
I also started reading a new graphic novel called A Unicorn of Many Hats.  It's a collection of funny stories about a unicorn named Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, who loves herself very much, and her friend Phoebe. 

Events this week:
Monday - Welcome back! Girls on the Run @ 3:45, School Council Meeting @ 3:45, Facebook Live Bedtime Story @ 7:30
Tuesday - Bus Evacuations in the am, CST Meeting @ 8:30, 5th Grade MCAS Make-ups, Grade 2 Animal Habitats Program in blue pod in the am, Liz at meeting w/Superintendent @ 2:30
Wednesday - Grade 3 team meeting @ 8:30, Girls on the Run @ 3:45
Thursday - Grade 3 ELA MCAS, Liz @ PLT Meeting 7:45-10:00, Grade 5 team meeting @ 8:00, Grade 4 Stormwater Education Program
Friday - Grade 3 ELA MCAS
Saturday - White Oaks Wildlife Program

Great things I noticed last week:

  • All of the kindergarteners enjoyed the amazing puppet program in the library! 
  • I caught some 4th graders who found the best reading spot under the stairs. 
  • I happened to come into 3D when a student was sharing a project he had worked on at home as a result of his genius hour project...a detailed scroll drawing of the Battle of Somme. 
  • 1st graders had a blast on their field trip to the Theater at the Mount on the Friday before vacation. 
  • Did you see the live display in the lobby to announce the winner of the March Madness Book Bracket...Wonder?!  We might have too much fun at work. 
  • Caught some 5th graders putting their math skills to the test as they became city designers and engineers.  

Check it out:
Check out this great TedTalk about the Disney Way: Inspiration, Creativity and Having Faith in Your Team...

Monday, April 8, 2019

Ah-Ha Moments from MRA (MA Reading Association) Conference

Principal ponderings...
This past week was the 50th Annual MRA Conference.  I was lucky enough to be able to present at a breakfast, sharing my love of books and talking about the power of book talks.  And thanks to Scholastic hosting it, I was able to give away lots of books!  Besides presenting, I was able to attend several sessions, listen to a few keynotes, and even have dinner with a new, young author/illustrator, Vashti Harrison.  I have been reading over my notes, and I want to share some of the nuggets of awesomeness that I took away from this many awe-inspiring ah-ha moments!

The first keynote speaker was Irene Fountas, yes the woman who is one half of Fountas and Pinnell.  Her message focused on "Access, Equity, and Joy in Literacy Learning: Every Child, Every Classroom, Every Day." One question that she posed to the audience that stuck with me was: what are the bigger purposes of literacy instruction and are we losing our way? She stressed that all of our children should feel a sense of agency and joy as a literate person. And then she put this slide up on the screen for all of us to strive for...
Irene also talked about how we need to be a team, we need a common vision if we are going to help all kids become readers.  I loved that she stressed the importance of a positive school culture in a speech about literacy instruction.  And she referenced Hattie's effect size research...
Collective efficacy is the highest ranked factor influencing student achievement.  Basically, we all need to believe that we all can do it!  

And one of my favorite lines from her speech that I promptly tweeted out to the world...

On Thursday, I went to several sessions focused on writing. In one session about collaborative writing ideas, I loved that the presenter, Steven Krasner, a former sports writer for the Red Sox, encouraged everyone to read a picture book simply to read it. He said, "cultivate the joy of words, find the minutes in the day."

Friday's opening keynote by author, Jack Gantos, had us laughing so hard that my cheeks hurt.  I loved listening to him talk about his writing days at the Boston Public Library.  He also told us about the stories from his childhood that inspired many of his books that he has written.  He painted this great image of his mom stirring sauce while cooking dinner, and as the spoon is stirring the sauce one way, stories from his mom were spinning out the other way.  He also shared a great little activity that he does with kids.  He has them find the spot in the library where their book would go on the shelf.  He told us to have the child slide their hand into the spot and think "wouldn't this be the perfect place for a book written by me?!"

I attended a session with Jeff Anderson.  He is an author who has also written several professional development books mostly focused around editing and conventions.  He was another session where my cheeks hurt from laughing, but also where I kept nodding in agreement with his message.  I loved his thought...what if conventions in writing were about wonder and possibility instead of dread?  He had us repeat the mantra: correcting is not teaching.  I think sometimes we get caught up in fixing kids' writing that maybe we forget about teaching them?  He shared three ways to ruin writing...
1. Flood lessons with unnecessary, abstract terminology
2. Take a right-or-wrong stance
3. Focus on product over process

Another awesome session that I attended was presented by Annie Ward, the author of From Striving to Thriving and an assistant superintendent.  Her session was titled: Riverkeeper Leadership: Maintaining Vital Streams of Books for All Readers. She started the session talking about a great moment where a child was given a book from his teacher and took the book home to share with his family. Annie's message was to think about all of the links in the chain that helped to get that book in that child's hand. She has put a lot of thought into how to restructure district process and procedure so that schools and classrooms and homes are not experiencing book deserts. Imagine the idea of volume building as an intervention, meaning a part of a child's reading intervention plan is simply to have a plan for increasing the number of quality books that the child has access to and the time to read them.

She actually has someone she hired who she calls her literacy ambassador. That person's job is to help elementary teachers curate their classroom libraries. Sign me up! I found my next career! (Just kidding, sort of.) Here are some of the slides from her presentation, including the data that is backing up the changes she has put in place in her district...

And the last session I attended was with Tammy and Clare, they are local literacy consultants who recently wrote the book It's All About the Books: How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries That Inspire Readers.  Here's a sobering slide that I know is not news to any of you...

During their talk, I loved that they discussed the importance of capturing kids' dispositions as well as their skills.  We watched a video of them working with some 1st graders and instead of asking the students what they liked to read, they asked "what do you like to think about while reading?"  Some other great points from them were about scope and sequence and how we need to not be so rigid, we should allow ourselves to go back and go forward, mixing genres and topics throughout the year.  I also loved how they shared some great student created labels for classroom libraries.  You can read more about that and see some here:

There are more takeaways from my time at MRA, but I need to still look back over my notes and process everything.  It was two packed days of literacy love and spending time with so many other bookaholics, my people!

Currently reading:
Since I just spent two days attending sessions at the MA Reading Association Conference...of course I got some new books to read!  I finally finished Dry; definitely a good book to read if anyone wants to borrow it.  Not a book for our student population, but an edge-of-your-seat read for an adult.  One of the speakers at MRA was the author Jack Gantos.  He is a local author (who I can hopefully bring to Mayo), who wrote the series Rotten Ralph.  He was a hilarious speaker!  He has written a variety of books, many that are somewhat autobiographical, filled with stories from his life.  I came home and started reading Dead End in Norvelt.  After hearing him speak, I think I will certainly enjoy his writing and the stories he tells.

I picked up the next book on my nightstand to start reading.  I have heard great things about The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise.  And I even had one of the parents on our library committee come up to me to recommend it, so now I am diving into this book! 

Events this week:
Monday - Patty at the Assistant Principals Conference, 4th grade makeup MCAS in the conference room, Girls on the Run @ 3:45
Tuesday - 5th Grade ELA MCAS day, Kindergarten and Grade 1 Team Meeting @ 3:45 (Lexia training, 2nd grade will join if available)
Wednesday - Report Cards will be available for parents at the end of the day, Grade 2 team meeting @ 8:00, Grade 3 practice MCAS, possible 4th grade MCAS makeup, Pumpernickel Puppets for K in the library @ 10:00, Girls on the Run @ 3:45
Thursday - 5th Grade ELA MCAS day
Friday - Grade 1 Field Trip to Mt. Wachusett Community College, SPED meeting @ 12:15 in the conference room, 4th grade MCAS makeup, SEPAC Family BINGO at Mountview @ 6:00pm

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I had fun solving area problems with 3rd graders on Monday. 

  • While I don't have any pictures, I can tell you that the 4th grade team did a great job as our first MCAS group.  Teachers were ready, students worked hard, and there were no major technology issues!  Way to go 4th grade!
  • I sat with some 3rd graders who were working on writing about the Statue of Liberty.  Mrs. Hilton was helping them use the text to include evidence in their writing.  
  • I had fun attending and presenting at the MRA Conference on Thursday and Friday.  Kristin and Joann joined me on Thursday (I forgot to snap a selfie!) and Maria and Maura joined me on Friday. 

Check it out:
Check out this great video series about how learning happens: