Monday, January 15, 2018

Love and Hate are Just Words...and Words are Powerful

Principal ponderings...
We remember Martin Luther King, Jr.  We remember his words.  We remember his dream.  It has been 55 years since Dr. King gave his 'I have a dream' speech.  So much has changed since 1963.  And yet, so much is still the same.

Martin Luther King knew there was power in words.  He knew that he needed to write down the words in his head and share those words with others.  Words are powerful.  More powerful than anything.  Words, like hate, can bring us down and words, like love, can lift us up.  Since so much has changed and so much is sadly still the same, it is crucial that we are teaching our children about the power of their words.  We need today's children, who are tomorrow's adults, to write down the words in their heads and share those words with others.  Just like Dr. King did.  We need to remind them of the "fierce urgency of now" just as King did in his speech.

As King said, "Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."  Soul force.  I choose to believe that Dr. King was speaking of the power of our words when he was talking about "soul force."  And how lucky are we educators who are able to work with the most beautiful souls...children.  We need to ignite the fire; we need to make sure that our students recognize their soul force, the power in their voices, their words.

I choose to not watch the news.  But even without watching the news, I still hear about and read about how hate seems to be spreading throughout our country...even possibly seeping out of our nation's capital.  Maybe I am naive.  Maybe I am still hopelessly optimistic.  But I choose to watch the events and happenings that unfold in our school and other schools across the nation.  I listen to students who still see the good in people.  I hear kids talk about how they will make the world a better place.  Dr. King had a dream about mankind.  Although I have the reality of today which is not too much different from 55 years ago, I do have faith in our kids.  They have a lot to say.  And their words are powerful.

Here's a great clip I came across where students imagined what a Dr. King campaign speech might be like today:

And my new favorite weekend activity is listening to several of these NPR clips that contain Kwame Alexander interviews.  In this short seven minute clip, Kwame and another amazing poet, Nikki Giovanni, talk about the importance of using language to protest.  They especially focus on protesting through poetry by sharing some powerful poems.  Whether it's poetry, persuasive writing, writing important, informational pieces, or writing narratives, we need children to embrace the power of their words.  We need them to understand that what they say is important, that they have so much to share with the world, and it starts with putting letters together to make words, and then words together to make sentences, and then sentences together to make a difference.
Yes, let's remember Dr. Martin Luther King.  Let's remember his words.  But let's also keep focusing on the little humans in front of us each day.  Let's make sure we are encouraging them to share their words.  We need their "soul force" to be heard loud and clear.  We need more word warriors.

How will you empower your word warriors today and the next day and the next?

Currently reading:
Although it's a tough read, I am glad I recently picked up a book I had started at the beginning of the school year.  I have not been able to put The Hate U Give down.  While it's not a book I recommend for elementary aged students, it is a book that people need to read.  It is current.  It is raw.  The author forces us to read about and not look away from racism and police brutality which is unfortunately a part of our world today.
Mrs. Wallace and I covered 3rd grade last week so they could plan their WIN block activities.  We had fun doing one word brainstorming and creating with the 3rd graders.  Of course the books I ordered to go along with our plans, did not arrive until the afternoon.  However, this picture book is still the perfect read aloud to go along with the idea of words being powerful and choosing one word to guide you throughout the year.  We have been going into 1st grade classrooms, and the students have enjoyed hearing My Special Word read to them.

Events this week:
Monday- MLK Day, No school
Wednesday- SST Meeting @ 8:00, grade 4 chorus practice @ 2:20, Staff meeting @ 3:30
Friday- District-wide half day, 12:15 dismissal, multi-part series and committee meetings

Great things I noticed last week:
  • 1st graders enjoyed trying out the new light table that the PTA bought! 
  • Students in Mrs. Nissi's class were discussing perpendicular and parallel lines. 

  • Students in Mrs. Potter and Ms. Schumaker's class were diving into work with all sorts of angles. 
  • Mrs. Devereaux's 1st graders were moving and grooving to some GoNoodle before they got started with reading and writing. 

  • Be sure and check out the bulletin board in the lobby.  We have been filling it with #oneword2018, words that students have selected to guide them this year. 

Check it out:
Here's the story of Martin Luther King, Jr as told by Kid President:

Sunday, January 7, 2018

When It Rains (through your ceiling), It Pours

Principal ponderings...
So I was working on some different kinds of posts, but then something happened to change my plans.  What happened?  Well, it started my kitchen...through the light fixture in the ceiling.  Actually it wasn't really like it was raining.  It was more like it was pouring, dumping a ton of water right in the middle of my kitchen.  This episode came after a day of dealing with a frozen pipe.  Yep, it was a fun weekend.  I said my one word was moment.  I definitely had a few moments...just not exactly the ones I was thinking of when I chose that word.

So I will save some of the other posts that I have begun to write, and I will share those at a later date.  Instead, for this week I am going to include some positive quotes and images...selfishly...I need some motivation to shift my mindset and "look on the bright side."

Here's a start at thinking positively...I have never really liked the light fixture in my kitchen, so now I can get a brand new one...along with a new ceiling!

If you or your students need some help looking on the bright side this week...these images and quotes are for you:

Currently reading:
I started listening to a new book on Audible this past week.  It's called Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.  The author is Brene' Brown.  I have heard a lot about her and her writing and have been wanting to read her books for a while.  She is a research professor and has spent many years studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy.
I am also working on finishing a book so I can write a review of it for Principal Magazine.  It's called When Writer's Drive the Workshop: Honoring Young Voices and Bold Choices.  I'll let you know what I think of it!  
Emerson got some Elephant and Piggie books for her birthday, along with the stuffed animal characters.  We enjoyed reading There is a Bird on Your Head! the other night. 

Events this week:
Tuesday - School Council Meeting @ 8:00, Dr. Chesson visits FloRo from 9:30-11:30
Wednesday - Grade 4 chorus @ 2:20
Friday - Melissa and Liz at SLT meeting from 8:30-11:00

Great things I noticed last week:
We were only in school for two days last week but I did manage to get into most rooms to welcome students and staff back from the holiday break!

  • It was exciting to see our new water bottle fountain that was installed over the break.  Thank you to the PTA for purchasing this!  Very cool that we can keep track of how many plastic bottles we are saving. 
  • I thought it was a new student because this 2nd grader had a major haircut.  Turns out he had donated his hair.  And his big smile told me he was super proud of what he had done.  Way to to go! 
  • Clearly the temps outside have been a little frigid!  But Mrs. Miln and her students know how to stay warm and toasty in their classroom.  
Check it out:
Some great suggestions for embracing social emotional learning:
This weather graphic is one that I definitely loved finding...

Monday, January 1, 2018

Moment #oneword2018

Principal pondering...

It's the start of 2018, and that means it's also time for a new #oneword2018!  You may remember that I have written about the #oneword movement before here and here.  Last year, my word, create, came to me during vacation week.  The same thing seemed to happen this year.  I had been reading other people's posts about the words they were selecting, and I had been making a mental note in my head about possible guiding words for me.  At the same time, I have been listening to an amazing book on Audible - The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.  I have also been participating in a virtual book talk with teachers and school leaders from across the country who are also reading the book.  I loved this book so much that as soon as I finished listening to it, I promptly ran out to the book store and bought a copy of it so I could reread and highlight so of my favorite parts...and there are lots of favorite parts!

This past week, it became very clear what my #oneword2018 needed to be: MOMENT.  This will be the word to guide me throughout the year.  And now I will use the word moment to explain how I hope to live up to this word in 2018.

M - Meaningful and memorable.  It's meaningful experiences that we remember.  I need to think about how I can create meaningful experiences for students, staff and parents throughout the year.  I also want to think about creating these meaningful experiences for my family, especially my daughter.  Our lives are made up of all kinds of moments.  I want to focus on the meaningful experiences, the moments that will not be forgotten.

O - Observe.  I need to make sure I take time to observe what is going on around me.  Not only do I want to create moments, but I want to observe the moments happening around me.  Don't want to miss anything!  I need to be in the moment.

M - Make it happen! I have the ability to make moments happen, and I need to take every chance I get to create moments.  Here's a direct quote from The Power of Moments book: "Moments matter.  And what an opportunity we miss when we leave them to chance!  Teachers can inspire, caregivers can comfort, service workers can delight, politicians can unite, and managers can motivate.  All it takes is a little bit of insight and forethought."

E - Emotional.  When I am thinking about creating "defining moments," I need to make sure that emotion is part of the mix.  As the book says, these moments look like "a burst of magic--thoughtful, playful, emotional."  What do I hope to do throughout the year?  I want to "defy the forgettable flatness of everyday work and life by creating a few precious moments."

N - Notice.  I hope to notice when and where defining moments are needed, both at school and at home.  I want notice when to create moments.  I want to make moments happen.  What will our students remember about this year?  What will my daughter remember about this year?  I have the ability to create those memorable moments.

T - Time.  I need to take time to live in the moment.  Be in the moment. Enjoy the moment.  Celebrate the moments that will stick with us.  I need to remember to step away from social media and technology to focus on the moments happening in front of me.  I need to take time to step away from work and be in the moment with my family.  So glad I started doing this over the past holiday break!

I am excited about what will happen in 2018.  I am eager to start making moments.  I can't wait to be in the moment and build momentum throughout the year!  What moments will I create this year, and what moments will I look back on and remember at the end of the year?

I encourage all of you to think of one word that will guide you this year.  What will your #oneword2018 be?

Currently reading:
On the first day of my vacation, I learned that my amazing Aunt Jo Ann had suddenly passed away, cancer quickly stole her from us. It seemed timely that I had decided to read the book Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. As I spent the last few hours of 2017 quietly on my couch, and started 2018 finishing the last chapters, one of the final paragraphs stuck with me...
“The truth is—the whole truth is—that it’s not the last day that matters most. It’s the ones in between, the ones you get the chance to look back on. They’re the carnation days. They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest.”
And now, on my last day of vacation, I am grateful that I took time this week to create some carnation days, some days that I will someday look back on. While I am sad about the loss of my aunt, I am grateful for so many special moments with family.  I was unable to fly out to Wisconsin for the service this past week, but I did write some words for my father to read.  I referenced this book and how the teacher in the book was labeled as "one of the good ones" which I felt described my aunt as well.  The teacher in the book shares many affirmations about life, and one of them stood out for me and will be how I choose to remember my aunt: "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."  This book was a tough, but timely read for me this week.  Love that it was about three, quirky, awkward 6th grade boys who truly love their teacher.

Events this week:
Monday - Happy New Year! Hope everyone enjoyed the first day of 2018!
Tuesday - Welcome back!
Wednesday - Grade 4 chorus practice @ 2:30, Staff Meeting - Dr. Novak will be presenting, 4th graders doing the pledge @ School Committee Meeting, 7:00 pm
Friday - Elementary half day, 12:15 dismissal

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Kindergarteners were on the hunt for the gingerbread baby!  They found some clues in the office...crumbs to be exact! 

  • Scooter City in gym class was a huge hit!  Students had a chance to check out several different "places" in the city and even do some shopping.  Ms. Kinneen--we love your creativity! 

  • I think the "lettuce" celebrate the holidays was a great day!  Loved all of the salad options to help balance out the holiday sweets. 

1st graders were talking...and dancing...about how to say goodbye.  Sadly, we had to say goodbye to our guidance intern, Amy. 
  • Our last day before the break was a little crazy with the weather and an early release.  But at least we were able to have fun in our jammies and celebrate a play day! 

Check it out:
I have posted this video clip before, but here is Jon Gordon talking about the concept of one word: 
For those staff members that read this whole blog post, and then decide on their one word and email me what it is or send me a picture of you with your just might get a surprise!

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Gifts that Can't Be Bought

Principal pondering...
It's the season of giving.  Everyone is rushing to shop in the department stores, the mall, the bookstores, the grocery stores, or if you are like do lots of your shopping online.  While it is fun to give things to others and see the look on people's faces when they open up a gift, there are many things that we can give that can't be bought.

One gift that we can give all of our students is the gift of time.  We can stop to be in the moment with kids or we can try to make an effort to give each student our undivided attention.  Yes, I know that everyone says 'time is money,' but time with our students is precious.  Think about how you can give your students the gift of time.  Make connections and watch how those connections help your students become better learners.

Another gift that does not cost a thing is the gift of kindness.  Even when we are tired and frustrated, we can all stop, take a breath, and choose kindness.  We are the best models for our students.  If we want them to be kind to each other, we need to model that kindness in all we do.  And we can also choose kindness when we interact with each other.  I am a definite believer in karma.  If you give kindness out to the world, it will come back to you.

The best gift we can give all of our students is love.  We can love them all, on the good days and on the rough days...especially on the rough days.  We are their home away from home.  We spend lots of time together, and we can give them the gift of loving them unconditionally.

A bonus gift that we can give our students is the gift of failure.  We can show them that we make mistakes, and it's ok.  We can help them see that making mistakes is how we learn.  We can encourage them to not be afraid to take risks and to feel comfortable making mistakes in order to learn and grow. 

Those are just a few gifts that cost nothing and can't be bought in any store.  I am sure you can think of several other gifts that you can give to your students.

What gifts will you give to your students during the holiday season and continue to give to them into the new year?

Currently reading:
As we wind down 2017, and get ready to dive into 2018, I love to look in my Goodreads account and see the different books I have read this year.  I also like to see what books I missed that I need to add to my always-piled-high to-be-read pile!  Here are some links to lists of good books from 2017:
I can't wait to spend some time over the break curling up with a good book!  How about you?

Events this week:
Monday - Elf Hunt Fun in the am! Dr. Chesson visits in the am, Elementary Curriculum Leadership Mtg @ 2:15
Tuesday - "Lettuce" get ready for the holidays!  Office/nurse/guidance are providing a salad lunch in the staff room
Wednesday -  Bling it on Day!  Wear your best festive wear! GDRSD HS Chorus Concert in the PAC @ 9:30, Staff meeting @ 3:30, Farewell Party for Russ Hoyt at Boutwell from 3:00-4:30
Thursday - The ever-popular snack cart will be making its way around the school today! GDRSD HS Band Concert in the PAC @ 9:30
Friday - Pajama Play Day! Liz and Melissa at SLT in the am

**I encourage everyone to leave as soon as the students are gone.  I hope you all enjoy the holiday break with your family and friends.  See you in 2018!

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I had so much fun taking the 4th graders to see the movie "Wonder" on Tuesday!  Students were glued to the screen during the whole movie, and many asked me if I cried. Yes, I did.  and so did many of them.  Great conversations that have happened since watching this movie, and I am looking forward to what our 4th graders will do to pay it forward after this trip. 

  • These 3rd graders from Mrs. Fournier's class stopped by to visit with me in my office and share some information writing that they have been working on.  I learned several new facts about the ocean as a result of our chat.  I didn't get a picture, but I also stopped into Mr. Smith's class and learned that his students are writing about topics such as sloths, soccer, and Nascar.  Going to have to go back in and read more information books! 
  • I did not get to snap any pictures (but Mrs. Miln snuck one!), but I did enjoy reading in several different classrooms on Thursday.  I read Malala's Magic Pencil to several classes and we discussed how our words and what we write is magic and has special power.  I also had fun reading The Case of the Stinky Stench to some first grade classrooms and we brainstormed our own fridge adventures and food landscapes! 
Check it out:
Jess Lahey, the author of The Gift of Failure, has been putting together some video clips in response to frequently asked questions.  Here's one called 'How to Motivate Kids Who Coast':

Sunday, December 10, 2017

It's Not Like It's Brain Surgery

Principal ponderings...

I have a slightly bizarre fascination with the brain.  I have always loved the study of anatomy, and I especially love learning about how the brain develops and all of the intricacies of the brain.  It's also why I love being involved in education and child development.  What and how kids are able to learn is, excuse the pun, mind-blowing!  Recently, I finished listening to the book When Breathe Becomes Air.  As part of the story, the author describes some of his operations that he conducted as a neurosurgeon.  Here is a section from the book:

“Once, I was doing a late-night case with one of the neurosurgery attendings, a suboccipital craniectomy for a brain-stem malformation. It’s one of the most elegant surgeries, in perhaps the most difficult part of the body—just getting there is tricky, no matter how experienced you are. But that night, I felt fluid: the instruments were like extensions of my fingers; the skin, muscle, and bone seemed to unzip themselves; and there I was, staring at a yellow, glistening bulge, a mass deep in the brain stem. Suddenly, the attending stopped me. “Paul, what happens if you cut two millimeters deeper right here?” He pointed. Neuroanatomy slides whirred through my head. “Double vision?” “No,” he said. “Locked-in syndrome.” Another two millimeters, and the patient would be completely paralyzed, save for the ability to blink. He didn’t look up from the microscope. “And I know this because the third time I did this operation, that’s exactly what happened.” Neurosurgery requires a commitment to one’s own excellence and a commitment to another’s identity. The decision to operate at all involves an appraisal of one’s own abilities, as well as a deep sense of who the patient is and what she holds dear. Certain brain areas are considered near-inviolable, like the primary motor cortex, damage to which results in paralysis of affected body parts. But the most sacrosanct regions of the cortex are those that control language. Usually located on the left side, they are called Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas; one is for understanding language and the other for producing it. Damage to Broca’s area results in an inability to speak or write, though the patient can easily understand language. Damage to Wernicke’s area results in an inability to understand language; though the patient can still speak, the language she produces is a stream of unconnected words, phrases, and images, a grammar without semantics. If both areas are damaged, the patient becomes an isolate, something central to her humanity stolen forever. After someone suffers a head trauma or a stroke, the destruction of these areas often restrains the surgeon’s impulse to save a life: What kind of life exists without language?"

As I was listening to the above passage as well as a few others, the phrase "well it's not like it's brain surgery" kept jumping into my head.  The author certainly did a great job of explaining how specific and painstakingly detailed brain surgery truly is.  Can you imagine the stress of a job like that?  Just the slightest mistake and you take away someone's ability to speak.  One millimeter too deep and you paralyze someone.  I just don't know if I could handle the stress of a job like that.  But then I started thinking...

What if we as educators started thinking of our jobs the same way that neurosurgeons think of their jobs?  What if teaching really was viewed as brain surgery?  A brain surgeon has a bad day, makes a millimeter mistake, and a person's life function is forever changed.  An educator has a bad day, doesn't connect with a student, doesn't give his or her all to teaching and learning, and a child's life is forever changed.  We really are responsible for molding kids' brains.  Our actions, our words, every day, thanks to neuroplasticity, have the power to positively impact and get synapses firing or negatively impact and disrupt those synapse connections.  

The responsibility that is in the hands of a brain surgeon is tremendous.  Guess what?  I would argue that the responsibility that is in the hands of every educator is even greater.  And here's the tough thing.  A person might only have one instance in his or her whole life where they have to trust that a neurosurgeon will not make a mistake, will not change them forever.  But a child has to trust that every year, every day, the teacher (and all of the other teachers that they will have) will not make a mistake, will not change them forever.

Some may say "well it's not like it's brain surgery" when referring to the teaching profession.  I am going to have to disagree.  Educating children is like brain surgery.  We are molding their brains.  They are trusting us to take care of them and their amazing brains.  They are counting on us, all of us, to make the right decisions, to be focused and precise, to be prepared to go the distance for them, to not make a wrong move, but instead make all kinds of right moves in order to help those beautiful, amazing, delicate, fascinating brains grow.

So get ready!  You are needed in the operating rooms more commonly known as our classrooms.  There are complex brain surgeries to perform.  There are kids who need you to commit to giving them nothing but the best possible care.

Are you ready to scrub in?

Currently reading:
I am still really enjoying listening to The Power of Moments.  And it's giving me lots of ideas for future blog posts.  I highly recommend that you check out this book when you get a chance, lots of great stories within it.  I love this new picture book I just bought: Malala's Magic Pencil.  It's a great book about a little girl who works hard to turn her wishes into reality.  I am looking forward to reading it to different classrooms on Thursday.
I am also very excited about a new book purchase called Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult.  In this book, the author revisits classic children's books, such as The Very Hungry CaterpillarCharlotte's Web, and The Cat in the Hat, and explores the backstories of the books and the authors that wrote them.

Events this week:
Monday - 3rd grade team meeting @ 2:45
Tuesday - Teachers need to have report cards completed, School Council meeting @ 8:00, 4th grade "Wonder" field trip
Wednesday - 2nd grade team meeting @ 8:15, 1st grade team meeting @ 8:30
Thursday - Kindergarten team meeting @ 8:30
Friday - Curriculum half day, 12:15 dismissal, no lunch served, K-2 math focus, 3-4 ELA focus

Great things I noticed last week:
  • Loved seeing high school students helping our students with Hour of Code activities! 
  • Caught 2nd graders working on their basketball moves with Ms. Kinneen in the gym. 
  • Thanks to the PTA for bringing Melissa Stewart to our school!  Loved popping into her sessions over the 2 days that she was with us.  Can you believe she has written 191 non-fiction books! And many of them are in our classroom libraries! 

Check it out:
A friend shared this video clip with me, pretty great story about the power of one caring adult:

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Time for the 12 Days of What the Staff Deserves!

Principal ponderings...
We kicked off the school year with a focus on the book Kids Deserve It and have been focusing on the idea of every kid, every day.  I have seen your dedication to students in action.  Thank you for working hard to make a difference in the lives of all of our students.  And's the most wonderful time of the year.  It's the time of year when we kick off the 12 days of what the staff deserves!  That's right, you all deserve to have a little fun during the last days leading up to the holiday break.

Check out the following link to see what will be happening over the last 12 days, beginning on Thursday!

Currently reading:
As I was doing my grocery shopping, I listened to the end of When Breathe Becomes Air.  Such a beautifully written book, although people were probably wondering why I was silently crying in the produce section while shopping!  I read a fun picture book that I just got in the mail.  It's the newest book by Josh Funk, The Case of the Stinky Stench, a sequel to the awesome book Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast.  I can't wait to read this to some classrooms in the future!
I also got another book in the mail this weekend called The Miracle Morning for Writers.  I already started reading it last night and am looking forward to trying out a new morning routine that gets me writing each morning.  Beginning to start working on writing a book with some other principal friends of mine...excited to write even more!

Events this week:
Monday - Discovery Museum visits 1st grade, Hour of Code activities
Tuesday - Hour of Code activities, Liz out of the building at meeting w/the Commissioner and MSAA Board Meeting
Wednesday - Staff meeting @ 3:30, School Committee Meeting @ 7:00
Thursday - Melissa Stewart, non fiction author visits FloRo
Friday - Melissa Stewart, non fiction author visits FloRo, Melissa and Liz at SLT meeting 8:30-11:00

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I was excited to pop into Mrs. Taylor's class and catch the launch of reader's workshop.  Students were excited to talk about mini-lessons, guided practice and independent reading.  And Mrs. Taylor got them super excited about the idea of reading during this very special time of the day! 
  • Thanks to everyone for welcoming educators from the Quabbin School District on Tuesday.  We hosted 14 teachers and math specialists, and they were all so excited and appreciative of what they saw and discussed with all of you.  It was great to see how your hard work and efforts to implement the math curriculum has truly paid off.
  • The principal of Ruggles Lane sent me some pictures of how two days after a visit to all of you...her teachers had already started trying out a math workshop model with Eureka.  Love the idea of collaborating and learning with other schools!  Just got a request from another district to come see our co-teaching teams in action! Thanks for making me proud.
  • Student Council is planning a hat and glove drive to collect donations for Transitions House at Devens. Thursday morning they were hard at work making posters to advertise the drive.
  • I caught this reader in the hallway, and he was super proud of his hard work!  He has been working hard to persevere...keep up the good reading! 
  • Holiday Fair on Saturday was a huge success!  Thanks to the PTA for putting the whole event together.  And thanks to Mr. Wiesner for the amazing performances by every grade level! Thank you teachers for taking time on a Saturday to stop by and support your students.

Check it out:
Check out this post that reminds us to "humanize our approach to interventions" :