Monday, September 30, 2019

This is a House of Joy

Principal Ponderings...

I have a very short post for this week.  I simply wanted to share the poem that I read to the parents during our Open House last Wednesday.

May This Be a House of Joy

May this be a House of Joy.
May we be open here to dreams,
and to each other.

May all who enter in these magic walls
feel love and feel respect
for learning and each other.
May we be always friends to life.
May we walk in that friendship.

May learning live in this house.
May it never leave.

--Lucille Clifton
(Lucille Clifton wrote this poem for Hollywood Elementary School in Maryland as its inaugural school blessing, November 10, 1993.)

I love the thought of our school being a House of Joy.  I know on Friday it was a very loud House of Joy, but it's pretty amazing when you have kids leaving school for the weekend saying that they don't want to leave. 

Do you feel like you work in a House of Joy?
How do you think our students experience learning if they are living in this house?

What will you make happen in "these magic walls" this week?

Currently reading:
I just started reading the newest book by Dusti Bowling.  She wrote the great book Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus and now I'm excited for the sequel: Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus.  Aven, the main character who is a girl born with no arms, is now starting her first year in high school. 
I also purchased some new picture books this week including this great one called Linus: The Little Yellow Pencil.  It's about Linus the pencil and his eraser Ernie.  Will they ever get along and will Linus be able to make his own creations without Ernie erasing them?!  Read to find out.
Several 4th graders recommended a book to me: Escaping the Giant Wave.  I had never read it before; thanks to Mrs. Greene for loaning me a copy to take home.  I enjoyed reading it and can't imagine experiencing a tsunami! 

 Events this week:
Monday - Grade 1 & 2 EL Creative Writing/Tech Club @ 3:30
Tuesday - Spell-a-thon information going home in backpacks
Wednesday - Staff meeting @ 8:00am in the library, Grades 3-5 EL Creative writing/Tech Club @ 3:30
Thursday - Liz @ PLT meeting at Central office from 7:45-10:00
Friday - Fire Department presentations with each grade all day, World Smile Day!

Great things I noticed last week:

Check it out:
Global read aloud starts tomorrow if you are interested:

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Working 2nd Shift

Principal Ponderings...

My first job in education was as a paraprofessional at a private school for students with language based learning disabilities.  I started the year as a para and quickly moved into being the teacher while the teacher I worked with was on bed rest maternity leave.  I lived in Northern VA and commuted to Rockville, MD.  I was a 20-something baby, living with a roommate and trying to pay the bills.  I had two other jobs so that I could afford to live.  I coached a swim team before school and then after school I was an assistant manager at a Williams Sonoma in the mall.  Not only did I work a second (and third) shift, but I felt like I was working all the time.  I barely made it through that year.  All I did was go to work and then eventually make it back home to sleep for a few hours before I had to get up and do it all over again.  I was exhausted.  Thankfully, I realized that this working 16 hour days things was not good for my health or my sanity.  At the end of that year, I got a teaching job and moved to a place where I could afford to live and only work one job.

Why am I telling you this?  It certainly gives me some perspective about where I came from and might give you some insight into my work ethic and my ongoing struggle for work life balance...have learned that burning the candle at both ends causes you to completely burn out!  But I am not actually writing about this work life balance and telling you my story because I want to focus on adults working too much.  I am writing about this to talk about our students, our kids and their work life balance.

On Thursday morning, we had a different kind of curriculum meeting at central office.  The leadership team from around the district was lucky enough to have a session with Alfie Kohn.  If you have not heard him need to!  He talked about a lot of things, challenged everyone's thinking, and encouraged some great dialogue amongst the leaders of the different schools.  But his main focus was to talk about the effects of homework.  And the phrase that stuck out the most for me was the idea that we make our kids work the 2nd shift.  They spend six hours in school working.  And then we send them home to work the 2nd shift; we assign them homework because apparently six hours of work during the day was not enough. 

Alfie talked with us about trying to answer the question...does it make sense to make kids work the 2nd shift?  I will share with you in this post some of the research and thoughts that he shared and then I hope to spark conversation among teams, groups, the whole school.  Homework is a hot topic.  I know this will touch a nerve with many people.  Homework is one of those time-honored traditions that has become part of what education is.  But is it worth it to stick with this tradition?  I know some people will immediately argue that homework helps kids learn better, that it raises achievement.  Except for elementary school, no study has ever found any kind of academic benefit.  So let's forget about that idea for a minute.  How about all of the non-academic benefits of homework?  Homework helps teach independence.  Homework helps with self discipline.  Homework teaches good study habits.  And again, no study has ever supported this claim.  But we all still say it because we feel like it should have a benefit.  Let's forget about that argument for a minute.  How about the idea that homework helps with the home/school connection, it gives parents a window into their child's school day?  Not many kids love homework.  Not many kids are excited to get home, drop their backpack and then dive into more work.  I have experienced it first hand with my step-son, tears, battles, yelling, avoiding.  Pretty sure that is not the image that I want any parent to associate with school.  And then there is also the argument of you will need to do homework at the upper grades so you better get used to it now.  We are basically saying that even though research has proven that there is no benefit at the younger grades, we still think we should make you work the 2nd shift to get you ready for future years of working the 2nd shift.

Have I made you uncomfortable yet?  Are you working on your defense to convince me that homework is a good thing?  I welcome the push back and the dialogue.  Let's talk about this more.  But let's also promise each other that we are going to question what we do and not just do it because it's what's always been done. 

Research aside, let's think about the human side of education.  Let's think about our students.  Let's think about our own kids.  Back when I was working the 2nd shift in my early twenties...I know that for that year I missed out on a lot of life.  I was always tired.  I never stopped working.  And I was not exactly happy.  Don't we want our students rushing back into school each day, excited to learn and grow with us?  Don't we want to encourage families (our own included) to spend time together, to slow down, put devices down, and talk to each other?  Don't we want our kids to be happy? 

I think of one of my favorite picture books: A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech.  In the book, the principal thinks his school is so great and that we need more school.  He keeps adding time, days in school, but finally a little girl teaches him that if the kids are always in school, then there will be no more learning to climb a tree, no more teaching younger siblings to skip, no more learning outside of school.  The principal learns that school and the learning that happens in school is only one part of the experience of growing up and being a kid.

We will be talking about the idea of homework more throughout the year.  I encourage you to think about what you do in your classroom.  Do you assign homework?  Why? What has been the effect of homework on your students and your families?  What has been the effect of homework on your own kids?  Ask your kids.  Survey your students.  What are their thoughts about homework?  What does it look like in their homes?

Is six hours of learning a day enough?  Do we need to keep making kids work the 2nd shift?

Currently reading:
This weekend I finished listening to The Parker Inheritance.  I definitely enjoyed this mystery that spanned several decades from the 1950s to today and tackled some tough current issues like segregation, racial discrimination, bullying, and homosexuality. 
I also want to use this section to talk about Global Read Aloud (GRA) which is coming up soon and kicks off on Sept. 30th.  Here is a link to the website where you can learn more and sign up if you are interested in having your class participate: . There are several picture book author studies involved with GRA, but my favorite is Jacqueline Woodson.  I have several of her picture books including The Other SideEach Kindness, and The Day You Begin, if you want to borrow any.  There are several early reader books listed, but the one I own is Winnie's Great War.  I also own this one...
I have read several of the middle grade book recommendations, including Front Desk and Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus.  I have also read The Bridge Home and Harbor Me.  And you can ask Laurie Coe about this book because she read it in the spring...
Global Read Aloud is simply about reading and enjoying a book with your class and then making global connections centered around the book.  So read a book with your class and then reach out to a class outside of Holden.  Let me know if you need help connecting with other schools...I have friends in schools across the country and internationally!

Events this week:
Monday - Liz out of the building for S3 Academy Workshop, Gr 1 and 2 EL Creative Writing/Tech Club @ 3:30 in the the library
Tuesday - Liz out of the building for MSAA Convocation and Board Meeting
Wednesday - Gr 3-5 EL Creative Writing/Tech Club @ 3:30 in the library, Open House from 6:00-8:00 - 6:00 Liz will welcome parents in the gym for about 10 minutes, then send them to classrooms from 6:15 until 6:45.  At 7:00 Liz will again welcome parents in the gym and then send them to classrooms from 7:15 until 7:45
Thursday - Half day, dismissal at 12:15, all staff will gather in the library at 1:00 - we will be focusing on student health and safety, PTA Frozone Fundraiser from 1:00-9:00
Friday - Special assembly with all grades in the gym @ 2:30!

Great things I noticed last week:

    • The 3rd graders met their Senior pen pals on Thursday.  I love being able to be part of this kick off event.  The 3rd graders left the cafeteria saying they were so excited and that they had so much fun.  And the seniors left with smiles and so happy to be connected to our students.  Here's a video of some of the images from that afternoon...

    • I popped in and listened to Mrs. Leroy reading aloud to her students.  Always love listening to a good story! 
    • Picture day seemed to go off pretty well on Wednesday.  I loved having lots of staff together for our photo in the morning, and I finished the day with a request to sit in on the 5th grade group photo.  I have a feeling the funny photo involves me having some bunny ears behind me!  Loved catching our triplets getting their photo together. 
    • The halls are beginning to fill up with student artwork.  Be sure and stop and admire all of the different projects on display.  Here's just a sample from our little artists. 
    Check it out:

    If you want to read more about Alfie Kohn and his thoughts on many educational practices, check out his website:
    I always love Gerry Brooks and his way of putting a smile on our faces.  This recent video of him makes me love him even more.  Not your typical laugh out loud video, but an important one for all of us:
    Came across this image this weekend, loved the message and wanted to share it with all of you...

    Sunday, September 15, 2019

    Out There in the Twitterverse

    Principal Ponderings...
    There is a whole big world out there.  Sometimes we get so caught up in our space, our town, our school, our own classrooms, that we forget there are other spaces, other towns, other schools, other classrooms.  There is someone else teaching math at this very moment, just like you are.  Or maybe not like you at all.  There is someone else reading and conferring with a quiet student, just like you are.  Or maybe not like you at all.  There is someone struggling to connect with a new student, just like you.  Or maybe not like you at all.  There is someone reading this blog post, just like you.  Or maybe they have never read my blog or a blog at all. (What?! Hurry up and share this with someone else!)

    The education world is a big one, and it used to be one where everyone went about their teaching and learning in isolation.  But that is not the case anymore.  One change that has helped to make the education world just a little bit smaller is Twitter.  Some of you have Twitter accounts already.  I want to encourage you to get a Twitter account if you don't have one.  You don't even need to tweet anything out....yet.  But having a Twitter account and beginning to explore the world of Twitter is going to open you up to an amazing world of education that is happening outside of your classroom, your school, your town, your state.  
    I love that I can go to Twitter and find all kinds of new learning, new things happening in schools, new ideas, new inspiration.  As I am writing this post, I popped onto my Twitter feed and here is just a sample of what I discovered...
    And then I go back to writing this post and switch back to Twitter to find this amazing movement.  Teachers everywhere are posting Amazon wishlists with the hashtag #clearthelist and people are buying supplies and books and whatever teachers are asking for.  If you are not on Twitter, you are missing out on this great do good movement happening!

    I am working to try to get some outside PD and consulting for our school, but in the meantime, Twitter is an unbelievable, free, 24/7, warehouse of awesomeness inside your computer...just waiting for you to discover it and explore and learn.  And possible make this vast education world a little smaller.  Or maybe Twitter is actually going to help bring down the walls in our classrooms and our school.  Use Twitter to get ideas.  Use Twitter to get inspired.  Use Twitter to get connected.  Use Twitter to grow as a teacher and a learner.

    Here is a post that just popped up on my Twitter feed from Clare Landrigan, a literacy consultant who I am trying to bring to Mayo to help us with our discussions about student writing.  For now, we can all learn from her for free on Twitter:

    Will you step out of your comfort zone and try something new?  What will you discover with Twitter?  Have you created an account?  There's a whole new education world out there. 

    What are you waiting for?

    Currently reading:
    I just finished listening to an amazing book called The Night Diary.  It's a historical fiction book that takes place during the time when Pakistan was forming, and families were forced to either leave Pakistan to go to the new India or leave India to travel to Pakistan.  The story is told through letters written by a young girl who has to make the scary journey to "new India."  She writes the letters to her mother who died when the girl was born.  I have a slight obsession right now for books that have kids using writing to make changes or tell a story.
    I am reading a graphic novel that is part of a series.  I previously read Invisible Emmie, now I am reading Positively Izzy.  It's another book about navigating middle school and navigating the social dynamics of school.  This one centers around a talent show.
    I am on my third re-read of Brave, Not Perfect.  This book is really that good and so important to be reading and discussing with your female friends, kids, daughters, mothers.  I am part of a book study with other female leaders with this book, excited to talk to more people about it.

    Events this week:
    Monday - Liz meeting @HPD at 8:00, ECC teacher observing in K classrooms @ 9:00, Grade 1 and 2 EL Creative Writing/Tech Club @ 3:30 in the library, Facebook Live Bedtime Story @ 7:00pm
    Tuesday - PTA Meeting @ 7:00 in the library
    Wednesday - School Picture Day! Patty Hurley out of the building for jury duty, PTA coffee chat @ 9:30 in the cafeteria, Grade 3-5 EL Creative Writing/Tech Club @ 3:30 in the library, PTA Exec Board meeting @ 7:00 in the library
    Thursday - Liz at Curriculum Meeting, Central Office from 7:45-10:30, Senior Pen Pal Meet and Greet in the cafeteria @ 2:00
    Friday - Library Committee Meeting @ 3:30

    Great things I noticed last week:

    • Several classes did all sorts of fun activities for Dot Day.  2K shared these images with me:

  • Check out the recess fun happening during 5th grade:

      • Peter Reynolds did a Facebook Live video where he read his book The Dot and talked about creating bravely and making your mark.  And then he said hi to Mrs. Brennan's 1st grade class and said that one of the places joining in around the country was Holden, MA!  If you did not get a chance to watch his video here you go!
      • I have been reading to several classes.  Had the chance to read a story in all of the 5th grade classrooms and all of the 2nd grade classrooms.  Working my way through 3rd grade and 4th grade this week.  Here's a selfie I took after reading to 2T! 
      • Loved the awesome shirts that 3rd grade wore on Friday...
      Check it out:
      I forgot to share this photo with people as we were talking about Dot Day.  Every year I try to run/walk in this event: . Hoping I can participate again this year.  I love to dress up in some sort of super hero related outfit and either run/walk by myself or bring Emerson.  I think this photo was from last year or the year before...can't remember!  But my friend who puts this race on called me over and asked me if I wanted to meet and chat with Peter Reynolds...yes! If you are looking for a great 5K for a great cause, check out this event coming up in a few weeks!
      I can't remember if I shared this Ted Talk with you, but this is the author of the book Brave, Not Perfect:

      Sunday, September 8, 2019

      What If?

      Principal Ponderings...
      We have been doing school wrong.  Before you get mad at me and start throwing things at your computer screen, let me explain.  Over the years, two main educational strategies or plans have developed.  One strategy is to become comfortable with doing things the way we have always done them.  The old "if it's not broken, don't fix it" mentality.  Sometimes we don't want to shake things up.  We are comfortable.  We can sort of switch to autopilot.  Using this strategy, schools can function.  Students can certainly go through the motions and teachers and administrators can check things off their lists.  Why rock the boat?

      The other strategy that I have seen happen in schools is the old "let's keep throwing different brands of pasta against the wall and see what sticks" method.  Kids and teachers aren't doing well so it must mean that we need to try a different curriculum or we need to add a new initiative.  And students and teachers feel like it's a revolving door of programs and curriculum and "new and improved" plans.  Teachers and administration become almost numb to the constant new changes.  They just take the new oars and keep rowing, often with no real desire or passion.  Instead of rocking the boat, they settle into rowing in circles, never really getting anywhere.

      What if we did not settle for either of the two scenarios described above?  What if we did school differently?  Who says we need to do things just as we have always done them?  What if we stop throwing different curriculum or different initiatives at schools?  What if we think differently and start by simply asking "what if?" and "why not?"

      I loved hearing staff think of some "what if" ideas both during our UDL book study this summer and during our opening day.  Here are a few of the statements that came out when people were given the freedom to think differently...
      There is so much energy and passion in those two words...what if.  I am going to try to start using those two words more this year.  And I will also try to bring them up at the district level when I am in leadership meetings.  What if we made the decision to try to do school differently this year?  When you are meeting as teams or when you are planning with peers or by yourself, start asking "what if?"  I challenge you to keep those two words in your pocket.  Pull them out and say them out loud.  Or better yet...write them on a sticky note and make them visible or change your background on your laptop to remind you what if?  One of my favorite quotes is from P.T. Barnum: "Comfort is the enemy of progress."  We education people have become comfortable with expecting and experiencing the two scenarios I described above.  I think it's definitely time for us to become uncomfortable.  Our students need us to start thinking differently.  We need to "rumble with vulnerability" as Brene Brown likes to say.  We need to think in "what ifs" and not be afraid to put some of those "what ifs" into action.  

      When we start saying "what if" in school, we start breaking the mold, we start becoming unpredictable, we start shaking things up.  That can be foreign, scary, and stressful.  But it can also be amazing, innovative, and trailblazing.  

      Wonder what "what ifs" you will create for our students, our school, and our families?!

      Currently reading:
      I have so many books that I am working through since I attended the Scholastic Reading Summit and came home with boxes and boxes of new books!  I am almost finished with Stepsister.  This is definitely a middle school or higher read, but some of you might be interested in it.  It's the story of what happens to one of Cinderalla's ugly stepsisters after Cinderella marries the prince.  Fate and Chance are battling over Isabelle's life and she has to learn that being a strong female is actually beautiful. 
      I read some great picture books over the summer when I opened the library up and had families come in and check out books.  One really amazing new book was called A Boy Like You.  One of my favorite parts of this book is where the author says that fear and bravery are partners and that you need fear before you can be brave.  And this beautiful book reminds us that we need all different kinds of boys in the world. 
      I know I mentioned this book during our opening day time together, but I am still reading it and really enjoying it.  It's called Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.   I love that the author is bold and tells it like it is...basically we have been teaching writing wrong.  Looking forward to sharing the ways that the author discusses how to change the way we teach writing. 
      Events this week:
      Monday - Grade 1 and 2 EL Creative Writing/Tech Club in the library @ 3:30
      Tuesday - Bus Evacuation, Building Clinical Team Meeting @8:45 in the conference room, Back to School Parent Night for ELL/FEL @ 5:30 in the library
      Wednesday - Grade 3-5 EL Creative Writing/Tech Club in the library @ 3:30
      Thursday - Liz meeting with the Commissioner from 10-11:00 in Franklin
      Friday -  Ready Sub training for paras @ 9:00 in the library

      Great things I noticed last week:

      • I am almost done with the compilation video from our first day of school assembly, but someone shared this great image of our own Mr. Wilde walking on his hands...anything to get the kids pumped up!

      • Love the new little kid size picnic table and shade added to the playground.  Thanks to the PTA and the 5th grade for gifting these to us! 
      • I popped into 3rd grade and caught 3D students and teachers enjoying Scholastic News.  So excited that the whole building will get access to these issues this year. 
      • Our new staff ID badges came in and I loved seeing all of the different books that people posed with!  I feel like I should have taken several pictures since I really can't pick one favorite.  Love that the images tell our students that we think books are special and important. 
      • Our kindergarteners have been getting settled into their classrooms.  KP is excited to have a new rug to go in their new classroom and KL made a visit to the nurse's office to talk about how awesome Nurse Coe is and how she can help us. 

      • I stopped into 5O just in time to listen in as they brainstormed the traits that they wanted their classroom community to embody.  One student was definitely influenced by our new shirts because he said "be a difference maker!" 

      Check it out:
      Love this post from Pernille Ripp about how to do book talks:
      5th grade teacher Colby Sharp shares what books his 5th graders are reading during the first few weeks of school:
      Check out this Self-Care September calendar that I found.  Click here for a PDF version.