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 now...it'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! https://www.smore.com/fx139


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" : https://mrromannowak.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/re-envisioning-professional-roadblocks-as-opportunities-for-success/

Monday, November 27, 2017

Beware of the Peter Pan Effect

Principal ponderings...

The other morning a crazy thing happened.  I was in Emerson's room after she woke up, trying to get her to stand still for at least two minutes so I could get her dressed.  She went over to the door and reached up and turned on the light.  And then she looked at me in shock.  The night before, I swear she could not reach that light, and now, just 12 hours later, she was able to stretch her body and reach it.  She proudly exclaimed to me, "Mommy, I'm big!"

In that moment, I swallowed hard and worked hard to fight back my tears.  Is it possible to plug up your tear ducts?!  And when Emerson ran back to me and jumped in my lap excited about her new ability, I said, "But I don't want you to grow up.  I want you to stay little."  She giggled and told me that she was growing up and getting bigger.  And then she at least gave me those few minutes of snuggling in my arms since she still is small enough to curl up in a ball in my lap.  I closed my eyes and remembered how it was not so long ago that she was actually a tiny baby curled up in my lap.  And then, suddenly, she was up out of my lap and bopping around her room talking to her stuffed animals.

I started to think about my wish to keep her little.  And I started thinking about our students and how we get them when they seem so little as baby kindergartners and then watch them grow to be the big 4th graders.  Do we sometimes have the same mentality that I had with Emerson that morning?  Do we watch them grow and change overnight, and wish that they would not grow up so fast?  Do we do things for them, not even realizing that we are doing it.  I just wonder if in school we sometimes let the Peter Pan Effect slip in.  While no one wants to rush and force kids to grow up faster than they already do, I just wonder if sometimes we hold them back, we help when our help is not needed, we jump in when they don't need us, we try to keep them little?  Do we say we have high expectations, yet in the moment, during the rush of the day, we lower them a little because we want everyone to get to the next task.  We want everyone to feel like they have been successful?

Without realizing it, are we trying to keep our students from growing up or are we doing everything we can to help them fly on their own?



Currently reading:
Over the break, I tried to give myself some more time to read.  Almost finished with reading The War I Finally Won and I am still listening to When Breathe Becomes Air.  Funny story about me always having a book with me.  I went to get my hair done on Sunday and I had the book The War I Finally Won with me.  The hairdresser asked what I was reading, and I replied with a smile...well a kid's book, I am the principal and I try to read books that the kids would be reading.  I told her it was an historical fiction book about World War II, and she immediately started talking about how she remembered reading the historical fiction book Number the Stars when she was in school.  She talked about how much she liked reading that book and it was the one that she really remembered from school.  I always love how certain books stick with people...hmmm...maybe another blog post for another day!  I am looking forward to starting to listen to The Power of Moments, also on Audible...loving using that app!  And I read another Melissa Stewart book, Beneath the Sun, in preparation for her visit in another week.  Will be delivering books to teachers this week to read to your classes.

Events this week:
Monday - FloRo Picture Retake Day and Happy Birthday to Melissa!
Tuesday - Teachers from Ruggles Lane visiting FloRo all day
Wednesday - Kindergarten chorus at 9:30
Thursday - Student Council Meeting @ 8:00
Friday - Gift of Failure book club @ 8:20, Elementary Curriculum Half Day, 12:15 dismissal
Saturday - Holiday Fair at the PAC and MSS!

Great things I noticed last week:

  • Mrs. Spiczka's morning and afternoon K classes had some planned field trips to my office!  They see me in their room a lot, but they wondered what my office was like so I invited them to take a tour, and then they all got to sign the SPARK Wall of Fame! 

  • Getting excited about Melissa Stewart coming to spend two days at our school and I saw this bulletin board pop up! 
  • Peeked into the gym and saw 3rd graders having fun on  scooters. 
  • 4th graders were having to do some math thinking in MakerSpace as they were shopping for their supplies to make some interesting creations.  Definitely funny to see some toys, or at least parts of them, that used to be in my house, now being used to construct! 
  • Officer Mead's dog, Miranda, has recently completed her training and is now an official therapy dog.  We are excited that soon she will be able to help us at school.  They happened to stop by and it was amazing the affect Miranda had on one student who was upset and having a tough time.  Just a few minutes of petting and snuggle time and the child went from tears to smiles. 
  • Flo made an appearance Wednesday morning to wish everyone Happy Thanksgiving!  She gave out lots of hugs and high fives to students and adults! 
Check it out:
Here's a great post written by a teacher after seeing the movie "Wonder": http://www.spedtales.com/a-teachers-perspective-on-wonder/

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Little Note of Thanks

Principal ponderings...

Saturday morning, I was excited to be one of the lucky ticket holders to see the movie "Wonder" thanks to Scott and Kate Middlemiss and their organization, The Joseph Middlemiss Big Heart Foundation.  Emerson and I had fun having mommy/daughter time even though she was mainly there for the popcorn.  She was excited to see some Star Wars characters in the movie, and she did keep asking me why she heard people crying.  Yep, bring the tissues when you go to see it.

With the movie "Wonder" and Thanksgiving break this week, it is certainly the time when we are all thinking even more about being grateful and being kind.  Many of you have expressed your gratitude to me either through spoken words or through written words.  And I try to let you know how grateful I am for all of you and everything you do for our students.  Many of you have done random acts of kindness for me, and I have tried to do the same for you.


This week, since it's a short week, I am writing a short and simple post.  But I am hoping my short post will have a big impact.  For this post to work, I will need your help.  I am going to be placing a whole bunch of note cards in the staff room and in the office.  I am asking you to take a few minutes to write out a note to a friend, a family member, a student's parent, or one of your awesome colleagues.  A simple little note of thanks and appreciation can mean so much to the people in our lives.  Your act of kindness can have a ripple affect.  Maybe if you write a note to someone, they will pay it forward and do the same for someone else.

You get what you give.  If you give out kindness and appreciation, I guarantee it will come back to you tenfold.

Who will be the lucky person to get a note of appreciation from you today?


Currently reading:
In preparation for our December author visit, I read a few of Melissa Stewart's non fiction picture books.  I will be giving different titles to grade level teams to read to their classes before Melissa's visit on Dec. 7 and 8.  Here are some of the titles that I read this weekend:


Events this week:
Tuesday - Dr. Chesson visits in the afternoon
Wednesday - Half day, 12:15 dismissal, no lunch served
Thursday - Happy Thanksgiving! No School
Friday - Thanksgiving break, no school

Great things I noticed last week:

  • This 3rd grader found just the right spot to dive into his book. 
  • Kindergartners were working on reading their sight words while moving around and finding their match. 
  • Thank you Nurse Natalie for your wonderful poem and information about nurse visits! 
  • These 3rd graders were discussing and showing their math thinking in order to solve some tricky problems. 
  • MakerSpace is quite an exciting place to be when you get to deconstruct all sorts of things.  I can't wait to see what the students create when they use all the materials they have discovered! 
Check it out:
I follow lots of blogs and get daily email updates from many sites, but one of my long time favorites is Two Writing Teachers.  Recently, they did a series of posts about homework.  Here is one post from the series to check out or you can go to their site and read all four posts that they did: https://twowritingteachers.org/2017/11/17/nightlywritinghw/

I hope you all enjoy your Thanksgiving break and spend quality time with family, relaxing and recharging, ready to come back on Monday and do great things for kids!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Is there a hole in the bucket?!

Principal ponderings...

Do you know that song about the hole in the bucket...dear Liza, dear Liza?  And now you probably have it stuck in your head.  You're welcome and I'm sorry.  For some reason that popped into my head when I was trying to decide what to write about this week.  Last week, kindergarteners were talking about being bucket fillers.  You know what a bucket filler is right?  When we do kind things to each other, we are filling buckets. But these days, considering what is going on with people all over the world, it seems as if there are holes in our buckets.  We need more and more bucket filling to happen to keep our buckets from draining out.


Today, November 13, is World Kindness Day.  What better day than today to make sure that we are trying to plug up the holes in everyone's buckets.  What can we be doing to fill our students' buckets?  What can we be doing to fill each other's buckets?  What can we be doing to fill our students' family buckets?  What can we do to fill our own buckets?  There is a lot of bucket filling that needs to be happening.  Here and all over the world. 

But let's start here first.  If we start with filling buckets for our school and community...just maybe we can spread out to the rest of the world.  Check out this video that shows the ripple effect that one act of kindness can start:

Did you know that there are several organizations that are all about bucket filling and acts of kindness?  Here is one site that has several blog posts about kindness: https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/the-kindness-blog
And locally, many of you know Scott and Kate Middlemiss and their organization and message of "All You Need is Love": https://www.jmbigheart.org/

This week, we start off with World Kindness Day and then end the week with the opening of the movie "Wonder," based off of the amazing book by RJ Palacio.  And then next week we have time to spend with our families where we will stop and think about what we are thankful for.  So these next two weeks are certainly optimal bucket filling weeks. 

How will you fill someone's bucket?
How will you feel when you fill someone's bucket?
How will you will your own bucket?
How will you let other's fill your bucket?



That song that is still stuck in my head...the one about the hole in the bucket...I can't help but think of it and feel this sense of urgency.  We need to fill buckets.  We need to plug the holes that keep forming in our buckets.  And yes, we need to do this especially on World Kindness Day.  But we need to also remember to fill buckets on every other day of the year too.

I know all of you will do acts of kindness today for World Kindness Day.  

But the question is...will you promise to do them when it's not World Kindness Day?



Currently reading:
I am still really enjoying listening to The Gift of Failure on Audible during my commute.  But I just added two new books to my audio book collection and plan on mixing it up during my drive.  The first book has been recommended by a few of my principal friends.  It's called The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact
The other book that I downloaded and have started listening to is called When Breath Becomes Air.  I picked this book up in a bookstore recently but then put it back down because I have too many books in my house that I need to read first.  But that doesn't mean I can't listen to it on my commute!  I know this is going to be tear jerker because it's a memoir about a doctor who battles stage IV lung cancer.

Events this week:
Monday - Elementary Curriculum Leadership Mtg @ 2:45
Tuesday - 4th grade Around Town Geology Field Trip
Wednesday - SST meeting at 8:45, Staff meeting @ 3:30
Thursday - Grade 2 Peacock Players field trip
Friday - Half day, 12:15 dismissal, parent conferences

Great things I noticed last week:

  • I listened in to a quick video and conversation with Ms. Kinneen about what it means to show good sportsmanship.  The 3rd graders shared many examples of how to demonstrate these important social skills. 
  • I was lucky enough to be the one helping cover part of a kindergarten wellness class.  The students were talking about what it meant to be a bucket filler and then we all practiced giving each other specific compliments.  When there was a little time at the end, they got to color in a bucket filler page, announcing that they were all bucket fillers! 
  • I was excited to get an invite into Mrs. Wilkins' 1st grade classroom where the students were sharing their published stories with each other.  They were complimenting each other about how they were unfreezing characters, writing great blurbs, using pop out words, and adding in speech bubbles in their illustrations. 
  • Have you had a chance to peek into MakerSpace?  The students are starting a unit all about deconstruction.  Looks like some intense work about to happen.  Can't wait to see how they repurpose the materials into something totally new. 
  • After school one day, I got to watch Mrs. Wallace do her teaching thing, working with 4th grade teachers to practice organizing their Google drive folders. 
  • Thursday afternoon and evening was filled with lots of parent conferences.  I brought along my "assistant" and she found a coloring friend who was waiting patiently for her parents.  Thanks to the PTA for feeding everyone during the evening!

Check it out:
I know I have shared some posts before and written my own, but here is another recent post about rethinking things like clip charts, marble jars and stickers for behavior: https://community.theeducatorcollaborative.com/goodbye-clip-charts-marble-jars-and-stickers-for-behavior/
And who is excited about the movie "Wonder" coming out at the end of the week?!