Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Hiking a New Trail

Principal ponderings...

We spent the weekend camping out in our backyard in a tent, after being forced to "camp in" in our house for so many weeks.  And then on Monday I decided that we needed to get away.  We need to leave our house, leave our yard, find somewhere else to just be for a little bit.  So we loaded the van up with kids and dogs and snacks and masks.  And we just drove west.  I didn't really have a plan other than to drive and be somewhere else.  We ended up in the Berkshires.  A place that Dave and I used to go to a lot before kids.

I put my husband in charge of directions to find us a trail that was open and allowed dogs.  Most of the drive was great.  Kids were reading and doing wipe off activity books.  Dogs were sleeping in the way back.  I was driving and mentally escaping from our current reality.  And my husband was singing along to the top 100 Beatles countdown on Sirius radio.  Then when it appeared we were getting close to the "trail," the dogs were anxiously peering out the back windows and my kids were thinking we were going on a rollercoaster ride because we were suddenly on a narrow, gravel road that was winding up and up.  And I kept thinking I saw private property signs out of the corner of my eye.  Plus, you know it's never a good sign with when the navigation system on your phone just sort of ends without an X marks the spot or a "you've arrived" notification.  When I finally stopped driving, we were sitting in front an old farmhouse where two Golden Retrievers were in the front yard...or should I say field...staring at us.  I explained to my husband that yes we were sort of on a trail through woods and yes there were dogs there, but I am pretty sure this is someone's property!  So I managed to somehow turn us around while my kids were saying, "I think those dogs are lost and need us to take them home with us."  My thoughts: oh there are some dogs that are lost, but it's not those dogs!  When I asked my husband what destination he typed in, he could not really give me an answer.  So back to the main road we went.

Eventually, we found a trail that was open and that allowed dogs and that was not actually someone's private property!  As a family, dogs and all, we hiked.  We explored an unknown place.  There were signs leading us different ways and each time we came to one, we made a choice to go a certain direction.  It was hot and my knee is still not the best, but it was so nice to be somewhere else exploring.  And of course, while we were hiking, my mind wandered to thoughts of school and the virus and next year.  I keep thinking about how we are all now hiking a new trail.

Only this trail is not like any other.  In fact, it's more like what my Emerson wanted to do.  We were following the path when she came to a spot where it was clear that an animal had maybe ventured off the trail.  Some branches were broken, the grass was slightly matted down, but it was not an extension of the trail we were on.  But that did not stop Emerson from saying..."let's take this trail!" She was ready to dive into the overgrown trees and bushes.  There was no trail marker, no guidance, no visible path.  Yes she was ready to forge ahead into the unknown.

While we did not let our daughter wander off into the wilderness, as I watched that moment when she started to try to venture down her own path, I thought about next year.  We are all standing on the trail that was been mapped out long ago.  But now we are are going to have to step off the familiar, well-worn path.  There will not be trail markers.  There won't be much guidance.  Sometimes there won't really be a visible path at all.  But we won't have the chance to step back and stay on the comfortable path that we have hiked before.

Next year, we will be hiking a new trail.  Actually, we will be creating the trail.  I won't be the one walking in the front cutting down the overgrowth.  And I won't be the one walking behind shouting out directions to 'stop' or 'watch out!'  I will be hiking right along side of you.  We will all need to make suggestions for what the new trail will look like.  We will all need to be looking after each other and shouting out encouragement to each other and words of caution.  I was tired and sore after our family hike.  This new hike, this trail creation is not going to be easy.  It's going to be exhausting.  It's going to feel like we can't do it or we need to turn back.  We won't be able to retrace our steps and go back to that comfortable trail.  You definitely need to take time over the next several months to think about if you can go on this journey with us.  Are you ready for this challenge?  Do you want to venture into the unknown with us?

Yes, this will be hard, but it will also be full of new surprises.  New learning.  New connections.  New opportunities. We can choose to think that we have to change our trail.  Or we can choose to think we get to change our trail.

Are you ready to hike a new trail with me?

Currently reading:
While it took me longer than normal, I finally finished Song for a Whale.  I also finished reading The Benefits of Being an Octopus, such a good book about students and families dealing with living in poverty and the inequities that are present in schools and life.  I am now listening to Untamed by Glennon Doyle on Audible and loving it.
I picked up another graphic novel to quickly work my way through, Nat Enough.  This is a story of a middle schooler who feels like she is never enough.  She is struggling with her best friend, and she is trying to learn about her true self and her natural abilities while focusing on who she is instead of who she is not.
I love that my Mother's Day gift was a new bookshelf.  I promptly began filling it up, still working on the bottom shelf.  Wondering where all those books were before?!  I know where they bags and piles all over my house!  As I put the books on the shelf I rediscovered so many that I either had not read yet or want to reread or recommend to friends and students.  Have you taken a look at your book collection at home?  Maybe there are some old friends you can revisit during this time or some that you forgot to read? 

Staff Shout Outs:
  • A giant shout out to Gayle MacKoul!  Angela Greene shared how much time Gayle devotes to connecting with students virtually each day.  Angela truly supports how much time you have devoted to making sure students feel connected to the class and to the remote learning happening in 4G.
  • A really big shout out to Liz Hilton and Shoshana Green from the 4th grade team!  Here's what they said about you: "Both of these ladies join our weekly grade-level meetings and create tools to support our lessons. They have been a blessing to the fourth grade team during this time. We have learned so much from them about making our lessons accessible to all students."
  • Thank you Julie Rondinelli for sending in a shout out to Kristin Baird. "She received a new student during closure and has done an amazing job welcoming her into her classroom and making her feel apart of the class.  Every meeting I join, Natalia is there and participating."
  • Shout out to Dan Wilde for being willing to listen to our crazy idea for a virtual field day and running with it!  And for collaborating with the other PE teachers.  Thanks for all the work you are putting into the plans.  Can't wait to see pictures and videos of smiling, happy kids!
Check it out:
So our very own Laurie Coe has caught the blogging bug!  I love that she has found writing as a way to share her thoughts before this closure and during.  Check out her blog:

I am actually playing around with the idea of starting a podcast with a few fellow MA principals so I have been researching podcasts, talking to others about podcasts.
Lots of great podcasts out there to listen to...
The Zen Teacher Experience
The TeacherFit Podcast
Punk Rock Classrooms
Teach Better Talk!
And for something unrelated to education (or actually totally related!)....I have not listened to this one but plan to start! How To Fail

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

To Teach or To Tech? That is the Question.

Principal ponderings...

Last year, I shared tech tips throughout the year, even offered some tech tutorials before school on some days.  Fast forward to today, we are stuck at home, trying to teach remotely, and relying on technology to keep us connected.  Now so many of us have had to up our tech game about 1,000%.

I have been compiling some tech tip videos, posts, info to share with all of you.  My advice?  Don't let yourself get overwhelmed.  Pick one thing to learn more about and then be brave and try it out.  And share your learning with your students.  What better way to engage with them than to show them how you are trying, making mistakes, persevering, and learning!

Matt Mille, the author of Ditch That Textbook, has created a free online course called Remote Learning 101.  Click here to register and get all kinds of practical tips, videos, resources, templates and more!

Here's a video with 7 tips for remote teaching from a teacher who is re-learning how to teach like all of you:

Have you ever tried ChatterPix?!  Such a fun way to make pictures or objects talk.  This could be something you could use to share things with your students or it could be something you could introduce to them to try to use and create on their own.

Pocket Full of Primary is a great resource; she's a 4th grade teacher in Maryland.  Here's a video clip where she walks you through creating Google slides to teach with.  You have seen that I use Google slides, it's a great way to present and share with students or colleagues.

And here she is again with several of the best websites and apps for remote learning.  She simply shares these resources.  You can then go and search info videos about the websites or apps she mentions.  I was going to share a separate video about Screencastify which is one she mentions, but you can find lots of video tutorials on it.  She shares links for everyone in the description of her video.

You are all teachers.  And now, thanks to COVID, you are all "tech-ers." Thank you for pushing yourselves out of your comfort zone and trying different ways to connect and teach through technology.

I would love to hear what you have been learning about or trying.  I'd also love to help, so reach out if you want to learn more about something or need some support with anything tech related.

To teach or to tech? That is the question. The answer today is both!  To teach AND to tech.

Currently reading:
I was excited to get a surprise book mail package the other day.  Thanks Caitlin Palazzo for sending me the book Joyful.  It was such a beautiful day on Saturday so I spent lots of time outside.  Definitely enjoyed reading this book in my hammock!

Staff Shout Outs:
  • A big thank you to Deb H and Amy C for helping with data entry as we work to transition from esped to PowerSchool with our IEP documentation.
  • Thank you to Jess Atkins for always willing to help out with projects!
  • Sending a shout out to Lisa Cotting.  She has been persevering and trying new tech tools.  Sometimes she has had challenges, but she doesn't give up and models this for her students.
Check it Out:
Teacher Appreciation Deals -