Monday, February 24, 2020

The Writer Inside Each of Us

Principal ponderings...
Over the break, I did a lot of thinking about the power of our words and how we can use writing for good.  I also thought about how important it is for us to teach our students to use their words and use their writing to do good.  I am part of a writing group called TeachWrite.  It is mostly teachers (and the occasional odd principal) who encourage each other and push each other to be writers.  It is hard to be a teacher of writing if one is not actually doing any writing.  Some people in the group are writing books.  Some people write in notebooks and journals.  Some people write articles and blog posts.  Some people write letters or fitness logs.  The point is everyone is writing and encouraging writers.

This year, I started joining an online writing community where we actually meet virtually once or twice a week to talk about our writing and our writing goals, and then for most of the online meeting, we write.  I love that I am now part of this writing support group.  It keeps me accountable every week.  Here is the website if you are interested in learning more:

I am connected to people with the Two Writing Teachers website.  In a conversation over the break, a literacy specialist shared that her uncle had passed away, but she had remembered that he wrote a memoir.  Thanks to Amazon...where you can find everything!...she was able to find his memoir and purchase it.  She shared with us this story verbally and then thankfully, she wrote about.  You can read her message here:  I love her ending: "Tell your story because your story matters."  What an important message for us as adults.  And an even more important message for all of our students.  We have to help them find the writer inside of each of them.  And if we are going to do that, we better make sure we are finding the writer inside of each of us.

I also have a good friend named Beth Houf who is an amazing middle school principal in Missouri.  She shared this great story that just ran in the local paper about how some of her students are being empowered to use their writing to tell a story.  Here's the article:

Our words matter.  Our stories matter.  We need to be writing.  And we need to be teachers of writing.  No one says you need to be writing published articles or novels.  Each of us can be a writer in our own way.  Maybe we don't share our writing with anyone, keeping it hidden in a journal or in a computer file or maybe we share it with lots of people to get feedback and grow.  It's almost March and that means it's time for the Slice of Life Challenge again.  You might remember that I shared about this last year:
The goal is to write a slice of life story every day during the month of March.  That's 31 little snippets of your life.  I have honestly surprised myself and written for 31 days straight during the last few March challenges.  I did not think I could do it, but it has been so rewarding to be able to look back and read my writing and see my perseverance in action.  During the challenge, you are also encouraged to read other people's posts and comment on their writing. I enjoyed going back and rereading many of my posts from last year.  I love that I have these moments in time documented and can go back and enjoy them whenever I want.

So what do you say?  Who wants to challenge themselves and try to write everyday during the month of March?  You can either create a blog to post on everyday or you can simply write in a journal for yourself each day.  Read more about the challenge here:  There is also a classroom slice of life challenge!  Here is a new slicers survival guide post:
And if you are ready to commit to writing everyday, sign up at this link as a participant: (The first year I signed up, I failed and did not write everyday.  But I tried and I certainly wrote more than I had the previous month.)

You don't need to do the Slice of Life challenge, but you do need to make sure that you are finding time to write so that you can become a better teacher of writing.  I started on this journey to become a better writing teacher about 17 years ago when I was a 2nd grade teacher.  And I am still on the journey to better myself as a writing teacher.  I work at it.  I fail.  I write junk.  I write good stuff.  I seek out feedback.  I talk to other teachers of writing.  I read about writing.  I read like a writer.  I write in notebooks.  I write on sticky notes.  I type on my laptop.  I type on my phone.  I read other people's writing.  I share my writing with students.  But most importantly, I write.

What will you write this week?
What will you teach your students about writing this week?

Currently reading:
Vacation week meant more time and energy to read before bedtime, early in the morning, while the kids were playing...lots of reading!  I finished reading a non-fiction story called My Survival: A Girl on Schindler's List which tells the story of Rena Finder and how she survived the Holocaust.
Thanks to a recommendation from Angela Greene, I have been listening to a book called A Chance in the World.  This is the true story of a boy from MA who was placed in foster care when he was only 3 during the 1970s.  It's definitely tough to hear about how he was verbally and physically abused by the people who were supposed to be caring for him.
I have really been enjoying the PD book We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be by Cornelius Minor.  I am only a few chapters in, but the introduction had so many great statements, including this one: "As teachers, we cannot guarantee outcomes--that all kids will start businesses, lead their families, and contribute in their communities--but we can guarantee access.  We can ensure that everyone gets a shot."  Yes!
Vacation week meant a little more relaxed work schedule for me so I was excited that I could go into Emerson's class to read to a room full of adorable preschoolers.  She went through an elaborate process of narrowing down the choices and the book that won was The Day the Crayons Quit, always a hit!
Events this week:
Monday - Welcome back! English classes for adults in the library 5:30-7:30 w/Liz Hilton
Tuesday - Grade 3 team meeting @ 8:00, Grade 5 team meeting @ 8:00
Wednesday - Girls Who Code 3:30-4:30 in the library, Computer Programming w/Scratch 3:30-5:00 in the green pod
Thursday - PTA Bagel Breakfast @ 7:45, Liz @ Leadership Meeting in the am, Dental program in K and Grade 1 9:30-11:00
Friday - Book Fair Teacher Preview in the afternoon

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I had fun being a 1st grader all day on Monday, even though there was a delay and it was the 100th day!  
  • Loved seeing all of the K students marching through the school on the 100th day! 
  • Glad I had the chance to pop into 4B and listen in as they Skyped with an author from Washington state.  The students had great questioned and the author shared lots of free resources on her website! 
  • I am enjoying spending some extra time on Wednesdays with some of our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade girls in the Girls Who Code club! 
  • 1L had a fun morning of math games with family members on Valentine's Day! 
  • It was great to see a surprised Mrs. Bercume Friday morning.  I know Eli will now have so many great books and reading experiences with his mommy and daddy thanks to everyone's contributions.  
Check it out:

Maybe you need a writing prompt to get you started?  Check out this call for blog posts from teachers:

Sunday, February 9, 2020

A Playful Interlude

Principal ponderings...
As the daughter of a retired Latin teacher, I am a lover of words.  I was raised to break words down and find the Latin roots.  Some kids sat in church playing word searches or quiet puzzles.  My siblings and I spent time searching for words that could be broken down and puzzled over what you could create when you put different Latin roots together.  That's pretty normal, right?

I titled this post 'A Playful Interlude' and I want to first break down the word interlude.  It comes from the Latin root 'inter' which means "between", "together", "in the midst", "mutually."  It also comes from the Latin word 'ludo' which means "I play."  We know interlude to mean the pause between the acts of a play, an intermission, a recess.  When planning to write about the feedback from Global School Play Day, this amazing word, "interlude," kept popping into my head.  There is certainly a lot of playing on words that I can do with it! 

If we take the roots and define it straight from them, we get "together I play."  Wednesday was an amazing day as together as an entire school, we played.  Play day happened to fall on a Wednesday in the middle of the in between play day, an interlude that we all seemed to need and enjoy.
It was great to reflect on the day and hear from many of you.  So many of you had the same observations!  Here's what we noticed when we let kids enjoy unstructured play...

  • Kids who are typically more shy and introverted were talking, laughing, playing with different peers.
  • Kids had no problem combining materials, games, toys to create something new together.
  • Many of you noticed that dismissal was quiet and calm...the kids were tired and relaxed from working hard at playing all day!
  • Everyone was respectful to each other.
  • Kids stepped out of their comfort zones.
  • Some teachers noted students taking a lot less bathroom trips. (Wondering if our nurse visits were less too?)
  • Kids began playing based off of friends they wanted to play with, but by the end of the day were choosing the activity over the friend group so they played with a different peer group.
  • Students were teaching each other and teaching the teachers how to play different games.
  • Tons of student to student communication.
  • Kids were taking turns without any adult interventions.
  • Kids were challenging each other without any adult interventions.
  • Kids were creating without any adult interventions.
  • Teachers reported learning so much more about individual kids by observing them playing.
  • Kids brought in all different toys and games from home and had no problem sharing with others.
  • Kids were playing in all areas of the school, including the hallways, pods, stairwells.
  • Older kids loved playing with play doh!
  • Kids were able to brainstorm or plan how they hoped the day would go: wanted everyone to be included, wanted to learn new games, wanted to have enough time to do everything they wanted to do
  • The kids themselves reflected and reported that they learned new games, played with different friends, and many shared that it was "the best day ever!"
With what we learned and observed during our 'playful interlude' last week, how can we replicate this on regular school days and during different lessons?  I challenge everyone to take what you learned and figure out how to incorporate play into our daily learning.  The benefits of students learning through play are so numerous, it only makes sense to have way more play than just one day a year.  Of course, I don't expect it to look the same as Global School Play Day, but seeing what happens when we give kids choice, when we let them choose who to collaborate with, when we give them creative freedom, when we let them do the talking...we have so much we can learn from "just a day of playing."

I think we should plan for another full day of unstructured play in the future.  I used to think the day before a vacation would be good, but now I am thinking the day we return from April vacation might be a great day to have some more unstructured play.  We saw how excited kids were to get into school last week on play day...what if we could get them that excited to return from vacation week?!

How will you incorporate play in the learning happening in your classroom this week? 

Currently reading:
I am currently reading a new memoir called Ordinary Hazards written in verse by Nikki Grimes.  I have had the chance to see Nikki present a few times.  I love her poetry she creates.  She spent time in foster care growing up so her beginning poems in the book tell that story.  It's an interesting read after finishing up The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog.  Nikki experienced trauma as a child, but is now telling the story of her childhood and doing it through poetry.
This weekend we visited Tatnuck Bookstore in Westborough because a local author was there signing her new picture book.  Payson Hendrix is a middle school teacher in Shrewsbury, and she is a friend of mine.  Her daughter went to the same home daycare as my daughter.  While the two girls played in the store, I got Payson to sign a copy of her new book.  And she's working on another one!  Fingers Aren't Food is a funny read that has a laugh out loud ending. 
And as a leadership team, the district leaders are reading Unconscious Bias in Schools.  I have just started this one, but it is definitely pushing me and challenging me to think about unconscious racial bias and how that affects my interactions with students, staff and families.
Events this week:
Monday - Happy 100th Day of School! Mrs. Garden will be a 1st grader for the day, no office day!  100th Day K Parade at 9:15
Tuesday - Grade 5 Committee Meeting @ 5:30 in the library, Grade 5 Boys' and Girls' Night 6:30-7:30
Wednesday - Liz and Laurie Coe at CPI Training all day @ Glenwood, Computer Programming w/Scratch 3:30-5:00 in the green pod, Girls Who Code 3:30-4:30 in the library
Thursday - PTA Bagel Breakfast from 7:45-8:50, Liz at Curriculum Meeting from 7:45-10:00, Holden Grange visiting 3rd Grade from 1:15-2:15
Friday - Happy Valentine's Day!
Enjoy a well-deserved winter break!

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Our 5th graders did such a great job sharing their writing at our Culmination Folktale Writing Event!  I was so impressed with their dedication to folktale writing over the 10 weeks.  And listening to and reading the fabulous language, creative voice, and interesting storylines made me so proud of our young authors! 
  • I love talking about writing instruction!  Definitely enjoyed listening in to discussions about reading like a writer and what teachers were noticing in different non fiction texts. 
  • I took so many pictures during Global School Play Day and then everyone sent me so many as well!  Here's just a random mix of pictures.  It was such a wonderful day at Mayo! 
  • Saturday night at the Railers Game was a ton of fun!  The 4th and 5th graders did an awesome job singing before the game.  Students got to sit on the bench during warm ups.  People got pictures with Ricky Duran!  And so many families had fun cheering on the Railers! 
Check it out:
An appropriate recent article about play making a comeback:

And a little after vacation math problem for you:

Monday, February 3, 2020

2020: Year of the Reader!

Principal ponderings...
Is 2020 the Year of the Reader?  I know my foster son came home with a chart to determine what animal he was based off of the year he was born and the Chinese zodiac chart.  Since it was all animals on that chart, no matter how many times I scanned the chart, I did not find an option to be born in the "Year of the Reader."  But it would have been really cool if I did.  I can imagine the description now...

You were born in the Year of the Reader.  People born in the year of the reader are eager page turners.  Their love of reading and all things books will bode well for their future success in life.  They may seem to be poor listeners, but really they just tend to get lost in the worlds found in books.  Readers are creative.  Readers are thinkers.  If you see a Reader, chances are he or she will be traveling with a book in hand and a to be read stack in his or her bag and a mental list of book recommendations ready to be shared.

In honor of the Year of the Reader, here's a clip from Colby Sharp about ways to celebrate World Read Aloud Day this Wednesday:

Also in honor of the Year of the Reader, did you hear about which books won the Caldecott and Newbery Awards?  Pretty exciting that for the first time ever a graphic novel won the Newbery!  Jerry Craft's book New Kid won!  I met Jerry this summer...such a kind soul...and we have his book autographed for our school that he gave me.  I also met Kwame Alexander this summer and heard him speak.  His powerful picture book The Undefeated won a Caldecott.  I have a copy if you want to check it out.  Read about these winners and others here:

Check out these links about World Read Aloud Day:

In honor of the Year of the Reader, check out this interesting article about libraries:

And another amazing book that was a Newbery Honor is a book I read recently, Other Words from Home.  Check out this interview of the author:

Cheers to the Year of the Reader!

Currently reading:
I just finished Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL and the Innovator's Mindset.  What an amazing book that is packed with tons of strategies and ideas that can be implemented in the classroom immediately.  When you put two powerhouse educators together and have them co-author a book...amazingness happens!
In preparation for our staff meeting that is going to focus on writing, I studied the wonderful picture book Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies.  I have read it before, but this time I was reading it as a writer.
And I am still working my way through The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, a book about the impact of trauma on children's development.  Seriously tough to listen to, but really eye opening.

Events this week:
Monday - School Council Meeting @ 4:00
Tuesday - Fit Club @ 8:00am, CST Meeting @ 8:00 and 8:30, Grade 5 Celebration of Folktale Writing @ 1:45
Wednesday - Staff Meeting @ 8:00, Global School Play Day! World Read Aloud Day! Computer Programming Class @ 3:30 - green pod, Girls Who Code @ 3:30 in the library
Thursday - Fit Club @ 8:00am, S3 Academy Grant Team in Westborough for the day
Friday - Liz out of the building, 100th day of school!  K parade at 9:15

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I had a wonderful 4th grader serve as Principal for the Day last week.  She had a very busy day, but she definitely found time to read in several classrooms, including KD, where after the story was over, they asked if they could hug her. 
  • We caught 3W doing something unusual in the cafeteria!  With the help of a parent volunteer, they were creating their own special planters. 
  • Global School Play Day is coming!  This Wednesday! Caught some students in 2L playing the other day.  Some serious lego buildings being created.
  • Thanks for a great afternoon of mindfulness and discussion around integrated student support.  Loved this image from Wendy O'Leary: 
  • The tech team spent Thursday afternoon putting together our 2 new Chromebook carts!  They will be rolling into pods this week.  Both carts have 28 Chromebooks on them! 
Check it out:
I get the Marshall Memo each week which is a summary of several different education articles.  Thought I would share this great snippet with you:

Increasing Joy in Primary-Grade Math Classes
            In this Mathematics Teacher article, teacher educator Amy Noelle Parks (Michigan State University) says that after 30 years as an educator, her criterion for excellence in primary-grade mathematics classrooms is joy. This is not the same thing as fun, says Parks: she’s talking about “flow” – children being so immersed in meaningful classroom activities that they lose track of time. Parks suggests five strategies for maximizing joy and minimizing anxiety and other negative emotions in math classes:
            • Create space for play. “Play is a powerful tool for reducing stress and for increasing opportunities for mathematical learning,” she says – as long as the materials are well chosen. Some possibilities: counting collections, wooden or Lego blocks, puzzles, and linear board games. 
            • Allow children to make choices. Children are empowered and more likely to enjoy classroom activities when they can make decisions on how to spend time, who to spend it with, and which materials to use. 
            • Offer problems that include exploration, social interaction, and engaging materials. A problem might be a question – If the giant in Jack in the Beanstalk is ten times as tall as a person, how tall is he? – or a counting challenge, or a brain teaser. Enjoyment is increased if students can share their answers with classmates without fear of making a mistake. 
            • Relax a little about time on task. “The occasional off-task moment will not significantly interfere with children’s ability to learn mathematics,” says Parks. Teachers snapping their fingers and ordering students engaging in chit-chat to get back to work will definitely not contribute to joyful learning.
            • Foster caring relationships. “Creating a welcoming environment draws on some classic early childhood teaching practices,” says Parks, “– greeting children with a smile and by name, taking time to get to know each child, and helping children to name and handle their emotions.” Risk-taking and joy are also promoted by including children’s interests, experiences, and home languages and cultures. 
            In addition to these joy-promoting practices, Parks suggests that teachers make the following choices:
-   Ask children to tackle a few deep tasks versus doing dozens of similar computation problems;
-   Allow children to talk versus telling them to work in silence;
-   Focus on growth over time versus achievement against a standard;
-   Emphasize fluency over speed;
-   Provide a variety of instructional settings versus the same routine every day;
-   Incorporate art, music, and science into math lessons versus a siloed approach.

“Creating Joy in PK-Grade 2 Mathematics Classrooms” by Amy Noelle Parks in Mathematics Teacher, January 2020 (Vol. 113, #1, pp. 61-64),; Parks can be reached at

And I loved this quote I came across this weekend.  What will you teach this week?