Orientation: A Bright Start for the Learning Team

Many years ago, when I started college I began that experience with a wonderful orientation.  My parents and I did not know what to expect.  We were nervous as we anticipated the college experience.  Then on that first day on College Hill I was met with enthusiastic student volunteers, resident assistants, professors and staff, and my college career happily began with a sense of knowing and belonging.

Do students and families in your school community begin the year with the same warm reception?  Is it time that we revisit the way we start school with respect to welcoming students and families?  Massachusetts' new educator evaluation system is broken down into several categories, and one of those categories is Family and Community Engagement.

Our school already employs many, many processes to engage the family and community including regular communication via newsletters, eblasts and news reports, a school council, curriculum nights, parent conferences, classroom open houses and special events, PTO events, musical and theater performances and more.  But, I wonder if we would do an even better job if we thought about the way we start school as that's the time of the year when families and students are most ready to listen, join and learn about year ahead.

What would an elementary school student orientation look like?  Who would participate?  When would it happen?

I suggest that the first day or two of school be devoted to orientation.  I think our State should require that every parent has a day off from work to attend their child's orientation day of school.  The orientation would have the following components:

  • Students and families would be warmly greeted with a healthy breakfast prepared by our schools' food service department.  That department would also have a booth open for questions and information regarding free and reduced lunch, lunch options, payment systems, healthy snacks and more.  
  • The principal and other administrators would kick off the day with a welcoming, short speech.
  • Students and families would visit the classroom(s) and listen to the teachers' introductory talk. They would receive a packet of important, start of school information and the chance to complete necessary school forms at that time. 
  • Students and families would also engage in a number of fun activities and content introductions with specialist teachers.
  • A picnic lunch would be provided by the PTO to give families a chance to informally get to know each other. The athletic staff would organize games and activities. 
  • The day would have a joyful atmosphere and attitude with a focus on the importance of teamwork and school success.
  • Families would have the chance to meet with support personnel such as guidance, ELL, the school nurse and social workers.
  • Local businesses could donate items for a give away bag of materials that support a successful school year. 
Just yesterday, my husband, who works in public health, came home with high praise for an inner city principal he was working with.  He remarked that the principal's one concern was how to get more families involved in their children's education--I believe that this mandatory, festive orientation day is a good start to solving this problem and boosting investment in schools across America.  Additionally, as I analyzed students' scores last night, I was struck again by the power that strong home-school relationships have on student success and engagement. 

If the State were to embrace this initiative, what would be a catchy title?  In addition to lead time and planning, what would your school need to make this day a success?  Perhaps the State could foster this day by contributing dollars to every school who wants to try this idea out in September 2013, or local foundations could support the event for specific schools systems.  Does your school already employ an orientation day like this--a day that empowers and engages students and families?  How would you involve your school's PTO and community organizations such as the library, local health center and other important organizations in this event?

An orientation at the start of the year can probably replace other activities your school promotes in the early months of the academic year to foster camaraderie and team.  Let me know what you think? I believe this idea has potential for strengthening the work we do with children and families.  Do you agree? 

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Student Response: Homework Routines

Homework Mindset
I've been listening to the debates about homework, and last year I employed many fluid systems to respond to families' and students' differing needs and desires related to home study.

Next year, I'll continue to provide the online, weekly study menu known as the learning action list, and I'll also employ the traditional, successful homework folder for daily parent-teacher-student check-in and response.

After many considerations including a family survey, last year's collegial PLC discussion about feedback, students' scores, and  my goals for next year, I realize that the folder system is a good system for many fourth graders and their families as we foster patterns of academic responsibility.

Some of my colleagues are religious at the start of the year about home study routines, parent response and student responsibility, and after close observation and discussion of their efforts and results, I want to try this system.

Families and students come to us with varying experiences and abilities to support home study routines. Students also have a wide range of after school activities and events from those that are mostly at home alone to those that go to full-service after school programs. Our efforts have to respond to that wide spectrum.

Hence, next year, home study will include the following attributes:
  • Homework folder.
  • A daily, parent sign off sheet noting that a child has completed his/her assignment.
  • Straight forward, nightly assignments that students can complete independently in a short amount of time. 
  • Paper and online homework lists.
  • An expectation that students read for 20-30 minutes each night independently or with a family member.
  • A fluid menu of home-school study extensions, projects and opportunities for students who want to do more.
  • Daily review of student folders, parent questions and a call home to students' families when homework is not complete in an effort to both better understand and foster students' scholarly habits.
  • Greater effort to help those that struggle with homework due to a myriad of issues.  Some colleagues consistently offer their lunches to these students and call the time "working lunches."  
While the homework debate continues, I recognize that homework at its worst ends up becoming a parent-child battle at a time when families should be enjoying time together and students should have the time to learn and investigate areas of life that they choose.  At its best, homework or home study provides students with the chance to practice scholarly routines that will serve them well in the future.  I will continue to work towards striking that balance in a responsive way as noted in last year's homework letter.

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I had the chance to look at some standardized scores tonight.  The scores reminded me of the following factors:
  • Scores reflect one dimension of learning, not all learning.
  • Student-teacher relationships matter a lot with regard to student success.
  • Feedback and regular response matters too. Know students well and regularly respond with targeted feedback.
  • Children make big leaps in learning at different times in their development and school life.
  • One teacher cannot be all things to all children particularly when a class is part of a collaborative team that includes special education, ELL and many other specialists.  Hence, collaboration and targeted programming are essential.
  • Regular progress monitoring creates a situation where summative tests present no surprising outcomes. 
  • Time on task and attention to detail with curriculum matters.
  • Scores reflect students' developmental range as well as current academic performance. 
When analyzing test scores, it's easy to see trends.  The trends can serve as reminders about successful patterns as well as patterns that will profit from revision or finesse.  As stated numerous times before, I'm a fan of streamlined formative and summative testing--the kind of testing that provides one dimension of the overall student program review, analysis and development. 

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Teaching for Twenty-Six Years?

I've been a classroom teacher for twenty-six years.  I began as a single young woman who decided to get my master's in education and teach elementary school after working for a few years in business.  Now twenty-six years later, I'm the married mom of three sons.  A lot of life has happened in the past twenty-six years both in the classroom and outside of it.

Thanks to the onset of technology, response to intervention, project base learning, inclusion and so many other great initiatives, I'm still very excited about the work I do as an elementary school teacher, and I also continue to believe that the work we do as educators is work that makes a positive difference in our communities, country and world.

Looking down the road, I've got another ten-fifteen years of teaching to go.  I want the final leg of my teaching career to be the best chapter.  When you've been in the same system for such a long time, it can be difficult to get a broad focus and outlook on your career.  Hence, I'd like some advice.

As a teacher, assistant, student or administrator, what advice do you have for the professional development and work of a teacher at the final third of his/her career? As a new teacher, who do you want those veteran teachers to be?  Students and parents, what do you hope for from veteran teachers?  And retirees and veteran teachers, what routines, practices and mindset do you recommend for veteran professionals?

Asking these questions publicly is a bit daunting, particularly since veteran teachers have received criticism and ridicule recently in news articles and public debate. So please post your thoughts with respect, care and the knowledge that this is your chance to inspire one veteran teacher, and perhaps many more.
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The First Six Weeks: 2012-2013

Ruth Charney's invaluable book, Teaching Children to Care, provides the backbone I use for the first six weeks of the school year. Charney provides a step-by-step guide to creating a caring classroom community.

Each year the first six weeks in my classroom look a bit different because I am responding to a new group of students, and because I incorporate the learning from the past year into the next.  What will the first six weeks of the 2012-2013 school year bring?

I want to ponder this question early in the summer so that during long summer walks, bike rides, reading and research, I can further my investigation of each area of focus. Hence, I've created the menu below:

The First Six Weeks Menu 2012-2013

In the coming weeks, I'll pull together each of the units above in specific posts. I welcome your thoughts and ideas as I plan for a new year of teaching.  Like the sweet smells of a bread baking in the oven, this is just the sweet start of a wonderful year to come.

*This is the film I created for the GTA application. 

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Blended Learning Strategies for 2012-2013

At the elementary level we are focused on strengthening essential skills, project base learning, and exposure to many learning platforms and venues. We want students to become facile learners who employ the best methods for efficient, meaningful learning, sharing and presentation. The blended learning environment sets the stage for student success.

We bring students down a number of learning paths during the year so they have the chance to engage in the following activities:
  • co-create the unit design/goals.
  • experience and understand related learning/presentation tools and processes.
  • work collaboratively and individually to complete projects and assignments.
  • share and present learning.
  • revise and redesign.
  • inquire and investigate.
  • reflect and determine next steps.
It is my goal as the teacher to facilitate students' development of a multidimensional tool kit of skills, concepts, knowledge, strategies, venues and processes that allow them to travel learning paths with confidence, direction and understanding.  I want to foster independent learning skills and a positive attitude towards embracing challenge and reaching goals. 

With a world of knowledge and a vast array of tools at our finger tips, it's essential that I provide a framework for my work in the following year.  Last year I introduced students to many, many tools and processes.  At times, I felt that I sacrificed depth for breadth.  This year I'd like to be a bit more targeted in the way I introduce each learning path leaving plenty of time for student presentation, conversation and reflection, areas I sometimes minimized last year in an effort to get it all in.

Therefore I created a chart to lead our work. Note that the chart is a work in progress and only includes our grade-level signature projects at this time. A more complete list of our grade-level goals and projects are located on the class website.  Since children are co-creators in my classroom, and I work to respond to their interests, challenges and needs, I expect this framework to continually shift and change. 

What paths, units, tools, goals and processes will your blended learning environment include next year?  What will be the attributes of the learning paths you present and promote in your classroom?  How does your focus differ from mine?  I will continue to think on this topic throughout the summer, and look forward to your insights and ideas. 

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Starting the Year with Self Portrait Poetry Anthologies

As I ponder innovation and learning paths, I recognize that I will spend the next school year similar to the past year engaged in a process of learning with children through a series of unit explorations, revisions, content creation and presentation.

Once again I plan to begin the year with the Self Portrait Poetry Anthology unit.  This unit serves as a wonderful vehicle for the following start-of-the-year learning goals:

  • Students choose poems that "speak to them" and those poems help the learning team (teachers and students) get to know one another in meaningful ways.
  • The short text provides an easy venue for quick reading assessments and beginning written reading responses.
  • Poetry lends itself to the teaching and understanding of writer's craft, thus this unit serves as a wonderful way to build students' writing tool kit at the start of the year.
  • Choosing poems that "speak to you" requires a metacognitive process of thinking about yourself, your interests and what you want to share--a process we'll continue to use throughout the year as we reflect on learning activities, process and goals. 
  • Students will learn create a Google site for their anthology. 
  • Students will present one poem to an audience which will begin a year-long effort related to presentation skill and voice. 
This will be the third year that I've employed this unit. I like the fact that this unit is easily differentiated and personalized since there is a large range of project type, poetry genre and reading level. I also like the fact that the conversation, edits and work related to this unit elicit thoughtful, rich discussion and conversation which helps us to understand and get to know one another in meaningful ways at the start of the year. 

Last year, I felt that I rushed the unit a bit, and we didn't make enough time to celebrate and share the work we had done.  This year I hope to plan a poetry celebration with children.  We'll choose our audience and plan for the event.  The other change I hope to make this year is that rather than keep the anthologies just online, I am going to have each child make a book they can hold on to, leave by their bedside and access often to read and reread the poems that "speak to them."  While online venues are terrific as students don't lose their work, can easily edit and add images, and share their work with relatives and friends near and far, the paper copies also have merit and value.

I look forward to beginning the year with poetry.  Over the summer months I'll revise and add to my self-portrait poetry anthology so I have a wonderful exemplar to share with children during the first days of school. 

2011 Project Guideline (will be revised a bit soon)

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Innovation Paths

Photo Credit
Systems are often created with obedience in mind.  The system creation includes process and rules.  It is the job of those working within the system to follow the process and rules in obedient ways. These systems are static and don't take into account that the world is continually changing.

Similar to Edna Sach's post, From Teaching to Learning, the way I teach has changed significantly. When I first became a teacher, I created static systems.  I developed a management and classroom system, introduced the system to the class, and worked to maintain that system to effect learning throughout the year.

My thinking and work in education has changed dramatically in the past few years.  I no longer create a static system for students to follow and obey, instead I create paths of learning--fluid paths of exploration, discovery, voice and practice that build students' skill, knowledge and concept foundation while also offering students real-time opportunities to develop communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration skills and understanding.

These new learning paths leave room for spontaneous challenge, innovation and change.  We begin the paths with the creation of goals and vision, then as we meander down the learning path we stop repeatedly to look back, analyze, revise and move forward again.  Typically the broad vision at the start is met, but the project itself takes many unexpected twists and turns along the way.  In a sense our learning paths mirror the paths of life with our essential drives and dreams moving us forward, yet all the while we are revising and rethinking our path as we live and grow.

As I write and think about classroom life, I wonder about school systems in general.  In what way does your school system create and support innovation paths for educators?  Recently, I wanted to revise a unit of study.  I wanted to transform the static nature of the unit to make it an inquiry driven path of discovery and response. The new unit created stress and conflict as many did not want the change.  I had to spend countless hours proving that this change was reflective of the way education is moving and changing, and that the unit responded with depth to students' needs and interests.  Even after the successful conclusion of the unit, one administrator questioned the level of challenge remarking that it may have been too sophisticated for the children.  The remark was made in passing and served as a bit of a slap after all the extensive time and effort the students and I had employed to make the unit a success.

The administrator's remark may have had merit.  Perhaps there was a real reason for the "too sophisticated" remark and perhaps my initial effort at creating a inquiry driven learning path missed the mark in some ways.  As an educator, I know that I don't have all the answers and I am happy to collaborate with others to best innovate and move education forward.  I do believe though that education systems need to create opportunities and paths for educators to innovate and explore as that's what will move our work and efforts forward to better effect education for all students.

What do your innovation paths look like in your professional development life, classroom and school? What kind of support does your organization provide for innovation with regard to time, professional development and collaboration?  How are you moving from systems based on obedience and predictability to flexibility and innovation?

I want to innovate in ways that will best meet students' needs.  I am open to the natural debate, discussion and challenge that innovation brings to organizations. I also want organizations to think about how they respond to innovation and ideas as hours wasted in unnecessary debate related to whether to innovate or not could be hours utilized for effective debate related to the details, rationale and process of effective innovation.

As I revise my units for the 2012-2013 year, I will be thinking about the dimensions, design and direction of innovation paths.  I look forward to hearing about your process and design in this regard.

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Lead by Creating Paths to Success

Photo Website
As a teacher I want to lead and facilitate student learning by co-creating paths to success.

In thinking about my own career, I can point to individuals that supported my successful journey down paths of discovery, understanding and learning.  Individuals who took the time to converse, respond to, strategize and support areas of interest, need and challenge. I've also worked with individuals who have in a sense "thrown rocks in my path" hindering the fluid acquisition of skill, knowledge and success.  As an educator, I want to be that guide, mentor and coach that helps a child attain skill, knowledge and concept in meaningful ways.

What do those paths look like?  How do I encourage students to take the paths, and in what ways do I support their journeys?

These are some of the many methods educators can employ to successfully foster student journeys toward skill and success:

  • Anticipation: Anticipate the needs that your students will have and create ways to fulfill those needs with plenty of lead time.  For example, I invite students and their families to join our class NING (closed social network) on move-up day.  I do that because I anticipate that some students and families will want to converse prior to the start of the school year, and NING provides that venue.
  • Communicate:  Email, NING and the class website serve as regular communication vehicles for the classroom.  The website presents all the information one will need to successfully understand the fourth grade program goals.  It also provides students with access to tools and activities to develop fourth grade skill and knowledge.  Email and NING give students, families and me a 24-7 vehicle for asking questions and relaying important school and classroom updates.
  • Know Your Students: Make the time to learn about, discuss and strategize a child's educational challenges, talents and goals with students and families. Team with your students and family members to support each child's successful acquisition of social, emotional, academic and physical fitness skills and abilities.
  • Flexibility: Be ready to change course and create new paths when necessary.  Classroom life and student goals are not static.  Flexibility and regular response are important ingredients to successful coaching and leadership.
  • Honesty and Transparency: Share your objectives, rationale and goals regularly with students.  Make sure that all students understand the reasons for the classroom organization and efforts. Give students time to discuss, create, lead and revise classroom endeavors for best effect.
  • Team: Work with the students as a team.  Be inclusive and learn together.  Share both challenges and triumphs.  Give credit where credit is due.  Be fair. Fostering team builds trust, and trust supports the educator-student working relationship that leads to success.
  • Learn: Using blogs, social media, books, edcamps, conferences and other professional development tools, stay abreast of what's happening in the profession and what works best for student learning.  As your students' guide, mentor and coach, it is your responsibility to be a life-long learner and expert in the field of education.
As an educator you are a designer of learning paths--paths that include online/offline venues, communication, conversation, goal setting and multiple tools that lead students to success.   The attitude, affect, environment and process you use to co-create those paths with students will greatly impact students' educational journey.  

Similar to beautiful stones in a hand-crafted walkway, the ideas, tools, strategies and information we collect over the summer months can serve to energize and revitalize the paths we create with students each day to lead them forward toward success. 

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Kudos to Curriculum Directors

My system's current ELA and math curriculum directors employ leadership skills that foster transparency, honesty and care.  I am thankful for their leadership which includes the following attributes:
  1. They don't play favorites.  Rather than choosing a few for special events, conferences and enrichment opportunities, they invite all to participate. Sometimes if too many are interested, some will be chosen over others, but when everyone knows of the opportunity and the chance to get involved, we all feel like part of the team.
  2. They communicate regularly.  Information related to their departments are shared regularly in a monthly newsletter. Teachers don't have to go searching for the information or hear it in the hallway, instead they regularly share the news which again supports a sense of team and collaboration which in turn builds good schools.
  3. They respond to emails. Generally when an email is written, they respond which supports a sense of two-way communication and care. We all know that when leaders don't respond, they send a strong message that doesn't support a sense of team or collaboration.
  4. They give credit where credit is due.  If a teacher shares an idea or provides a link, they credit that person rather than just noting the idea without credit. Giving credit where credit is due builds trust, and trust builds team.
  5. They double check.  Recently there was a late spring opportunity for teachers to sign on to summer work, and the curriculum directors checked carefully to make sure that all who wanted to be included were included. Again, the double checking demonstrates care and ensures that people aren't left out if they want to be included.
  6. They're honest.  They might not always agree, but they respond with honesty or more questions if needed.
  7. They post results.  Recently their end year reports related to curriculum goals were posted on the school committee site.  In that way, teachers who worked diligently to meet those goals could get a glance at the outcome of their year-long efforts and investment. They also made time to share year-end test and progress monitoring results. 
  8. They elicit conversation and are open to dialogue.  Our curriculum leaders regularly make themselves available at PLCs and other times during the school schedule to meet with individual teachers and teaching teams to trouble shoot, analyze and plan for optimal teaching endeavor. 
  9. They say thank you.  We all work diligently to do a good job, and a thank you now and then makes a big difference.  Our curriculum directors understand that, and take the time to say thank you when appropriate. 
  10. They are life long learners. They are continually on the look out with teachers for new teaching methods, tools and processes to further students' positive learning experiences in school. 
There are many roles in education, and it is so important that those that represent the many roles collaborate to teach children well.  The current ELA and math curriculum leaders in my system lead with care and a sense of mission with regard to teaching children well.  I am thankful for their transparent, honest, intelligent and caring leadership. 
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Starting Summer

Summer vacation officially begins today.  When the school year ends, it always feels like a Mack truck putting on its breaks in the middle of the highway.

The pace, decision making and action of a school day is a nonstop, second-to-second, action packed event, and the evenings are spent thinking about, responding to, and planning for the children in your charge.

Teaching is an all-encompassing  24-7 task, yes 24-7 because the work we do infiltrates our dreams and sleep too. Members of a teacher's family play important roles in the teacher's work--they are always adjusting their schedules, listening to stories, offering advice and supporting the teacher's efforts. In a sense, teaching becomes a family pursuit too. 

So now it's summer, a time when schedule and priorities shift.

I've outlined my summer studyprep and goals in earlier posts.  And before I begin that work, I'll make some time for family, friends, fun and home--important aspects of life that sometimes get neglected during the busy school year schedule. 
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Nurturing the Powerful Seeds of Knowledge

As I watched medical staff use knowledge to save a life, I was struck by the fact that all the processes they used are processes we begin to develop with children in elementary school:
  • Doctors counted parasites on blood smears and averaged the amounts.
  • Medical staff analyzed statistical relationships to gauge treatment.
  • They researched the disease to find the best paths of recovery.
  • The medical team worked together with apt communication, problem solving and application.
  • Technology was abundant and used consistently.
  • Compassion, care and kindess served to help both the patient and family members.
Sometimes as we work day in and day out in classrooms, we forget about the powerful seeds of knowledge and process we nurture in young children--seeds that grow and bloom in ways that affect an individual, community or world forever. 

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Promise 2012-2013

On Wednesday I met next year's class.  As I handed out their take-home packet, I asked each child to tell me about a learning experience that they had sometime in their life that was enjoyable and successful.  With story after story, students unveiled their collective learning profile.

How did these students love to learn?

They shared stories of field trips, drawing on the computer, research, computer games, books, writing, keyboarding, history, drama, puzzles and more.  I told them that I planned to incorporate their interests into next year's program.  I also reminded them that the reason I like teaching so much is the promise I see in their eyes for a better world, and that it is most important that they find what they love to learn about, and how they learn best.

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The World of Learning

ICU night's rest for family member who stayed
by the patient's bedside all night.
The past three days threw me a giant curve ball.  While I expected to be enjoying a relative's safe return from a trip abroad, instead I was thrust into the world of infectious disease and hospital care.

My relative returned with a severe illness which landed him in the emergency room and ICU of a nearby teaching hospital.  As I offered support during the past three days, I have been amazed by what I've learned from this experience--lessons I don't want to forget:

  • First and foremost, when it comes to overseas travel, anticipate the health concerns by educating yourself and taking precautions!
  • Good medical care is invaluable, and my relative has had the best care I can imagine.  
  • Systems Matter: I am so grateful to the teams of doctors, nurses and hospital staff who have cared for him second to second.  We discuss life long learning, flexibility, response, teamwork, apt systems and communication when it comes to education, and at this hospital I saw all of that working to save a life--amazing and humbling at the same time.
  • The tools available for learning are incredible.  Thanks to the Internet, I've been able to understand my relative's condition somewhat which has helped me to ask good questions, anticipate his needs and understand the complex information doctors and nurses from all areas of the medical spectrum are sharing.
Just in the past few hours, my relative took a turn for the better.  We are very hopeful for his safe recovery, and that's why I'm able to write.  I hope I can take the valuable lessons I've learned during this traumatic event and apply them to the work I do each day with young children.  And finally, the perennial lesson, life's challenges and heartache make us appreciate the good times and good people in our lives--seize the day and make the time for an extra glance, hug, smile, conversation and time well spent with those you love.  

Shakespeare wrote, "All the world's a stage," and we all know that All the world's a teacher too.  
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Writing Every Day

Writing is an essential skill. Learning to quickly and concisely put words on a page to convey a message, story, idea or procedure is required in almost all fields of work and endeavor.  It is essential that we help students develop writing with facility and skill.

In this age of multiple platforms, what is the best way to grow writing skill and interest in authentic, meaningful ways?

As I think about this and the fact that we'll have a ninety minute ELA (English Language Arts) block next year, I believe the answer lies in writing every day.

Godin's post and message, Talker's Block, leads my thinking in this area.  I am also led by The Daily Five structure which includes time for daily writing, and recent collegial discussions.  Now, I'm wondering about the daily menu of writing choices.

Best writing is motivated by a person's interests and passion. People enjoy writing about what they know and care about.  Writing also profits from specific focus lessons that teach grammar, craft and writing strategies--a time to learn about and practice the ways of writing that wonderful authors of many genres use.  Good writing also profits from the habit of writing often.

Hence, I'll begin the year with a menu for daily writing.  As I think about it now, I imagine the menu will include the following choices:
  • Writing in a paper journal, story book or notebook.
  • Writing on a personal blog (public or private--parents will be involved if it is public).
  • Writing on Google docs.
  • Writing in an ePortfolio.
  • Writing using KidPix.
  • Writing with friends.
  • Writing speeches and later video taping oneself reading the speech.
  • Writing using iPad apps.
The topic menu will vary too.  At times, I'll probably assign a focus area to practice, and at other times I'll probably leave it open for free writing from a large list of genres and topics.  Then there will be the times that our writing will be coordinated with a class topic or unit.

I'll set up the writing/tech center with a variety of tools, guiding posters and inviting spaces for writing, and I'll make time and venues available for students to share their writing.  

Our class has always spent a lot of time on writing, but it has been mainly associated with a shared topic and focus.  Next year I will continue with the shared focus on our grade-level units: poetry/craft, personal narrative, fiction, reading response, essay and informational text, and I will also foster a daily habit of voice and choice when it comes to students' writing growth, development and interest.

Note: After completing this post, I found a nice article from Peter Reynolds that will support this effort. 
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One might think that ordering is such a simple process, but actually ordering becomes quite complex as you navigate changing school structure, tools and pedagogy.

Our ordering system includes a once-a-year big order and smaller orders throughout the year.  We still cull through catalogues online ad off to choose best items for our classroom work.  We meet as grade-level teams to determine the supplies that will support our collective program.

So today, while I visit a relative in the hospital, I'll bring my computer and search through numerous websites looking for numbers and prices for materials when the patient is sleeping.  I'll also try to envision how our curriculum projects will be revised next year for best effect, and the materials that will support that revision. Our team met earlier in the week for a few hours to create an initial plan, and now each of us is finalizing our portion of the job.

As we use technology more and more, the ordering system will change.  It will become a more fluid process of response, rather than a once-a-year endeavor.  I liked the way ordering was done at the architectural firm I worked in so many years ago.  There was one person who was a supply expert.   He knew when and where to get the best deals, and also had his fingers on the changing pulse of supplies and materials.  If you needed something, you could always call him and he knew how to guide you with choice, then he completed the rest of the purchasing requirements.

I'm sure that school systems ordering procedures vary.  When I started in my system, teachers had little voice about the supplies that were ordered.  At that time, curriculum leaders made all the decisions.  Even though it takes more time, I like have some say in what we order.  The process elicits a good discussion among the team members about priorities, materials use and pedagogy.

Thus, another piece of the education puzzle, supplies.
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Real World Inspiration

Tonight I visited a relative in the hospital, one of the best hospitals in the world.  I sat there amazed as I watched knowledge and skill in action. I found myself so thankful for the intellect, drive and passion the medical staff exhibited, and understood the power that knowledge, invention and innovation holds for a better world.

When I was in the patient's room, I thought I spied a talented, former student, one I knew was studying to be a doctor.  Later when researching my relative's condition, I happened upon a film about my former student. I was so moved to see that she was dedicating her life and using her talents to make a difference.

Like this former student, my classroom this year is filled with students who hold great potential for the world they live in. I plan to show the film to my students to inspire them.  I am also going to use my newfound knowledge with YouTube playlists to create a stream of inspiring films related to former students and dedicated individuals past and present as one way to show students possible paths of exploration and work.

You never know where inspiration will come from, and tonight the fine medical staff at Massachusetts General Hospital served as my inspiration.  Thank you!
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Website: Priority, Principle and Protocol Mirror

The website serves as a mirror to an organization's communication system and principles.

The main stage for communication today is the system website.

Utilizing the nesting approach, main categories are identified and lead the reader to the information he/she is looking for in quick, streamlined, effective paths.

Rather than monthly updates, the website can serve as a regular source of timely information from all areas of an organization.  Similar to organizational calendars, all members can have a ready protocol and process for posting updates.

Our State educational website does a good job with this. I can check the website at any day and quickly access information I've missed and information I need.

Thinking of the website as a mirror to an organization's communication systems and principles transforms the routines related to website revision and attention, and has the potential to make system-wide communication fluid and effective thus leaving more time in organizations to focus on the work at hand.

The learning community has to acquire habits of regular checking and reading the categories that impact the work they do. The categories identified demonstrate the priorities, goals and vision of an organization. Information is posted in timely, easy to read, quick access streams with links leading to greater depth for those interested.

I recognize that this is not a new idea, and is probably the foundation of most websites. However, careful scrutiny and creativity with regard to website design and process is one way to organize, solidify and advertise an organization's communication priorities, protocols and principles thus leading to greater transparency, impact and effect.

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Saying Good-bye

On Thursday, I'll say good-bye to 22 students I've grown to know and care deeply about this year. Each of these wonderful children holds tremendous potential and promise for the world they live in, and the people they meet.

I have learned a lot this year.  My students have introduced me to places in the world I knew little about.  They've challenged my teaching in new ways by confronting me with learning challenges, interests and questions that led me to research, reflection and new teaching skills and knowledge.  They've written stories, essays and poems, and they've created films, slide shows, podcasts and exhibits.  Day after day they've cared for each other in helpful and truthful ways as they read stories, wrote responses, studied content, practiced math and played at indoor and outdoor recess.  Even in times of conflict, we've been able to use words and actions to find peaceful solutions.

The year-long teacher-students connection is a peculiar phenomenon as you spend an entire year thinking carefully about a group of children--they are part of your daily ritual and thought as you prep and plan lessons. Then when the year is over, they become a part of that student collage or child-quilt that's always with you as you move forward in life.  It's difficult to say good-bye, but I do it with a smile and a message:

 "You have a great year ahead with wonderful fifth grade teachers. Believe in yourself, find your passions and contribute to your world in kind and caring ways.  It is the promise I see in your eyes each day that makes me hopeful about the world we live in.  Also, don't forget to have fun during the wonderful months of summer!"
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Active Learning

As I consider the classroom environment and prep to think about a more brain-friendly classroom, I'm reminded of the following questions:
  1. Who is doing the talking the classroom?
  2. How much time do students spend on active learning?
  3. What is the ratio of collaborative vs independent work?
  4. How often are students given a menu of choices with regard to their learning?
  5. What protocols lead classroom communication?
  6. How are the most needy students served? 
  7. What is done to make sure that all students have equal access to learning?
  8. Do students have time to quietly read books of choice for extended periods of time each day?
  9. In what ways are students responsible for the classroom environment and endeavors?
  10. Are family members invited to take part in classroom events regularly?
There's always room for growth, and these questions will guide my initial cognition investigation during the summer months. 
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Long ago, I would share my voice in hushed discussions when I disagreed about a decision or policy.  I was afraid to speak up.

I was afraid to speak up because I didn't know all the information, and I was also worried about the consequences of speaking up.  Yet, sharing information in hushed discussions often leads to rumors and is much like a game of telephone as the stories become distorted quickly.

Then I started using my voice more.  At first I tried many ways to use my voice.  In fact, I'm still experimenting with the best ways to use my voice for best effect.  Some will argue that debating these issues on a blog is not the best way, but when the ideas are debated behind closed doors, the discussion is sometimes lost, forgotten or misinterpreted.  On a blog, it's here to debate, discuss and revise.

Now when issues occur, I speak up if I believe change will make a difference for children. I speak up if policy and procedure take us away from the important work we do or if policy and procedure do not reflect best practice.

When I speak up, I don't expect to always be right.  Earlier this week, I spoke up about a staff event and a colleague reminded me of information that impacted that decision; she helped me to see the event with new eyes.  I realize that I see issues from my vantage point and there are other viewpoints to consider, so when I speak up, I expect to hear information I might not be aware of. I'm also willing to "agree to disagree" with regards to some discussions.

I like what transparency, protocols and good communication can do for a team or organization. I don't like what secrecy, inconsistency and confusion create.  I don't think that everyone agrees with me.  I think that many feel that some in an organization should have voice, and others shouldn't.  Others seem to believe that there's a hierarchy as to who has voice and who doesn't.  Still more prefer more of a political way of managing their work and effort by using subtle action and effort to work well within the current organizational structure.

I'm perhaps too transparent and honest about my beliefs.  When it comes to schools, I always say, "We're not talking about nuclear bombs," instead, we're discussing what's best with regard to the education and care for young children.  To me, that topic lends itself to transparency and shared information as the more we all know and share, the better our collective efforts will be with regard to student success.

Voice is an issue I'll continue to think about.  It's a time of changing organizational structure and systems, during this change, the impact, delivery and systems for voice are important considerations.  As you think about voice, what protocols, policies and principles guide your work?

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Practices that Promote Equity

Equity contributes to community and success in organizations. What practices create equity?

Established protocols create equity. Protocols related to professional development, new ideas, advancement and communication create fertile ground for community building and organizational growth.  Protocols replace practices that might be seen as unethical, inconsistent or unattainable. Responsive, proactive protocols create a common path for individual advancement and the advancement of organizations. Protocols take away the need for conjecture and secrecy as they contribute to transparent environments where the energy is mainly focused on an organization's mission and vision.

What protocols are in place in the organizations where you work?  Which protocols serve to strengthen community and the work you do?  How does your organization establish protocols and revise those protocols regularly to respond to organizational innovation and change?

In my microcosm of the classroom, I'll think about ways that I can establish protocols that contribute to equity so that all students have a chance to succeed.

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Endangered Species: The Museum Open House

For those of you have been following post after post about the Endangered Species project, I apologize for the scrutiny I am giving this project, but I must say that every step of this intense employment of project base learning is important and intriguing to me as I think about projects and pedagogy to come.

It is mainly those who read my posts and chat on Twitter and other venues that share my passion for moving the classroom environment forward so that all students learn in invigorating, meaningful and responsive ways. I want to become what George Courus describes his recent post, Create the Environment.  Couros states that "A great educator creates the environment where students can motivate themselves."

Now that the reading, research, multimedia composition, illustration and exhibit creation are complete. It is time to celebrate. Early this morning, family members and teachers will join us to view the work at individual exhibits and later we'll gather together to watch the student-created Endangered Species Youtube Playlist.

What's important today is the children.  It is important that all of our visitors take the time to notice the work and care students have employed to complete each project and learn. It is also important that children realize our Museum was created from their extraordinary creativity, collaboration, critical thinking skills and communication.  Without their effective effort, we would not have this Museum and the new knowledge and skills we gained.  It was a community effort.

At the presentation portion of the morning, I'll remind family members and visiting teachers of the many, many steps students employed to complete this project.  I'll share wise words from my PLN in this short speech:

Dr. Judy Willis, a neuroscientist and classroom teacher, wrote, “The lives our students will live and the jobs for which they'll compete will not be about answering questions correctly, but about how they use knowledge and respond to changes.” The endangered species project gives students the chance to look for, organize and make meaning of multiple knowledge sources. It also provides students with a glimpse of our changing world, and their role and potential with respect to that change. The project content is real world, and the avenues we used to learn and communicate were varied and timely.

As I walked the project path with these students over the past six weeks, I was cognizant of their interests and needs.  At all times I tried to keep the balance between their voice and interests and the project expectations and potential. Once I even had to stop the process to explain to students that sometimes my expectations can be too high, and I forget that they are fourth graders and not high school students.  In the public service films, you’ll notice that students used their creativity in many ways--some added humor, others included dance and still more created music and added it to their films. As film editor, it was important to me that each film was accurate and polished, yet I tried to retain students' voice, humor, outlook, exploration and heart.

I invite you to relax and view the fourth graders’ public service films. I hope you’ll take away inspiration to act in one new way to protect the many, wonderful species on our planet that are endangered.

The movie playlist will begin with a summary of the project dimensions, then we’ll move quickly to students’ original films.  Enjoy!

Now it's time for the event, I'll add some photos and notes once it is complete. Thanks for your support throughout this project journey.


  • The Museum went well; the students were wonderful!
  • I wish I recognized visiting administrators and teachers who helped with the project. I'll do that next year.
  • The students were proud. They strengthened scholastic skills, concept and knowledge with an invigorating and meaningful project.
  • I want to think more about the collaborative aspects of this project next year.
  • We will write another grant for a zoo-school partnership.  My team and I will research this over the summer months. 
  • I'm wondering if we can develop the musical aspect of the film by adding students' music from their orchestra and band concerts, or using traditional music from the countries an animal lives in.  One child did this and it was very effective.

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Editing Film for Young Students

Yes, film is an area of literacy we'll have to think about with regard to elementary school students.

Unlike a written report or even a Google presentation, film is a more public medium, and the delivery has to be done with greater care.

The written report has text, images and sometimes diagrams.  The Google presentation adds animations, video and all that the written report has, but film has voice and music too, and it's much easier to share with a wider audience.

As I edited student films tonight, I learned a lot about the medium.  I also caught a few errors that I had to erase--ones I had missed during the busy classroom editing time when I met with one student at a time while 21 others were busy crafting presentations and setting up museum displays--not the ideal editing forum.

As I continue down this endangered species project path, I realize that films are much better when they are a collaborative effort.  The recent math films that students made had far fewer errors and greater "punch" due to the fact that students' provided checks and balances as they created the films with a team.

I like what filmmaking does to the brain. You can feel your brain working as you synthesize music, image, voice and sound effects always with the intent forefront and the audience in the back of your mind.  It's a wonderful medium for students to learn and explore at a young age. However, as the editor you're always making decisions about students' choices of image, music, humor and fact--you want accuracy and a polished piece, but you also want to retain a child's voice, creativity and intent.

Tomorrow students will share their exhibits, Google presentations and films. Each film has a unique flair and areas of competence as well as challenge.  I've added a couple below for your review, should like to to take a look.

Today, we have so many mediums available to students for communication and self expression.  I'll be thinking about how we want to match those mediums well to the many learning projects and focus areas we have so that students are learning and sharing their knowledge with skill and understanding while also utilizing 21st century tools.

Do you make films with students?  What process do you use?  What are your most successful film projects for young children? I am interested in learning more about this process.

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Defining Your Role in Education

What is my role as an educator?  I've written many posts about this question.  The interesting outcome of my reflection is that the more I ponder the question, the more narrow and specific my role becomes. When I began this quest, I thought my role would become broader, but instead, I'm finding that my search is leading me full circle to my original professional intent which was to become an effective elementary school teacher.

My role is that of child guide, coach, teacher, advocate and caretaker which means that it is my role to do all I can to best educate the children in my charge.

To educate children well means that I am an advocate who stands up and speaks out for the best that schools can be with regard to the care and education of children. I will continue to pose ideas for the world of education outside of my classroom because that world affects the work I do each day, and when the broader world of education supports students and teachers, we are able to do our work well.

This role also means that I am knowledgeable about the content, cognition, and 21st century pedagogy and methodology. I work as a kind and thoughtful counselor and guide to help students develop academic, social, emotional and physical fitness skills, concepts and knowledge in positive ways, and I communicate with students, colleagues and families regularly regarding students' program and performance. It also means that I collaborate well with colleagues, students and families for best effect as I recognize that one educator cannot be all things.

I've wrestled with role definition all year.  I've pushed role boundaries to advocate for new ideas and systematic support. And with this refined, streamlined role definition, I will continue to develop my skill and repertoire with regard to the role's scope.

I'm happy to move towards summer with a greater understanding of my role and the work I do today and in the future. I am thankful to those in my PLN, online and off, who have journeyed with me on this quest; I appreciate the support, debate and guidance.

How do you define your professional role in education, and how does that definition lead your work and professional development?  While roles shouldn't be static, accurate definitions and process can lend structure and direction to the work we do.

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Too Close to Art?

There must be a name for this.

It happens when you create.  You work intensely with a project. You're so close to it that once it is complete, you can't see it anymore.

I've experienced this with a lot of the work I do whether it's a drawing, mural, class project or written piece.  I move from idea to the creative process and then the completed piece.  At that end stage, I can't "see" the work anymore.  Then a day or two later or sometimes a month or year(s) later, I look back and I see the work with its original intent, energy and vision.

That happened to my students. They worked intensely on their endangered species presentations, movies and extra work, then they couldn't see it anymore. I explained this creative phenomenon to the children, and they were able to understand.

Have you experienced this creative blindness?  What do you call it, and how do you work with it?  As we work with students on intense creative endeavors, it's important that we both understand, and are able to anticipate and convey the process to them in order to guide their work and performance well.
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Field Study

Today we have a field trip.  This field trip has been a long standing tradition at our school system, perhaps dating back about 25 years.

The visit relates closely to our endangered species study, and provides students with an opportunity to hear about the work and life of a family that has dedicated their time and attention to saving animals on the brink of extinction.

It is a long ride in a noisy bus to our destination, yet we secured the better busses with movie screens so we can watch an entertaining film about saving endangered animals, The Amazing Panda Adventure, while we travel.

I've been on this field trip about 10-15 times (I've lost count), and it will be important for me today to treat this trip with the same enthusiasm and intent as the first time I traveled this path. The children are excited, and there's much to learn.

I am the kind of person who is always looking for a new adventure, project or challenge, but I have to remind myself that there's strength in tradition and the treasured ways of the past too.  That's the delicate and important balance of choreographing a year's learning for students.

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Inclusion Story: A Better World

This weekend I was at a gathering.  I watched one little girl play with another, a girl with Downs Syndrome.  I was amazed with the way the first girl, just a year or two older, knew how to guide, include and have fun with the other little girl.

Later, someone remarked about the first girl's sense of care and kindness, and she replied, I have a girl like that in my class.  I thought way back to the first days of inclusion, and my experiences long before that when children with significant challenges were schooled in separate settings.  I realized that this scene was a leap forward from the past, evidence of a better world.

I'm thankful to all those educators and parents who moved inclusion forward.  I know it wasn't easy and challenges still remain, but we're definitely ahead of where we used to be. Thank you!
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Museum Prep

I did not intend to have another Museum, instead students were going to individually present each project. We simply ran out of class time for that, but students who want to present still have the chance to do so in younger grade classes.

Next year, I'm going to add a new project to the agenda that focuses on oration as I believe students need the chance to develop that skill with intent and practice.

So, with only ten school days left, students and I will be busy today setting up the Museum.  I'll use this as a chance to clean up the room for the end of the year too.

First, I'll go in early to reorganize the furniture, pushing cabinets and bookshelves to the back of the room to make space for Museum displays and visitors.  Then students will clean their desks and cubbies, bringing home all the books and supplies we will no longer use this year.  After that students will begin creating their Museum spaces with posters and displays, leaving room for their laptops so visitors can see their Google presentations and films during the open house.

It takes a lot of energy to coordinate the Museum set-up, and I like to do it a few days prior to the actual Museum leaving "room for error and revision."  Once the room is prepped, students will have a chance to finesse their projects.

As you can see, the Endangered Species project has many elements to it from initial design to implementation to presentation.  I'll write again once we reach the final stage--the project open house or Museum.  Stay tuned.
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Culture: Tenets?

I've been thinking about culture this year--the culture of classrooms, families, schools and school systems. I've defined aspects of culture that I believe are important to successful schools, and I've thought about ways to tend culture.

Now I'm wondering about the tenets of culture. Tenets of a culture are the principles and beliefs of that culture.

Last week, I engaged in a discussion about cultural tenets.  I recognized at a recent school-wide assembly people clapped and hollered to show their regard for colleagues. Typically, in the old days, people would reserve their applause for the end of a ceremony and few, if any, would holler.  But today, many holler at all kinds of events and clap at will.  At the table we discussed the changes we've noticed related to ceremonial behavior. I mentioned that it would be interesting to talk about this, and other changing tenets--what do we believe is best, what are our shared tenets in the collective school culture?

I believe that shared cultural tenets frame and direct an organization's collective purpose, activity and vision.

What tenets do I believe are important in learning communities?

As I think about this question, I realize it is a difficult question to answer, but I'll attempt to name a few.

Learning Community Tenets
  • The learning community belongs to all members: students, staff, teachers, administrators, families and community members.
  • Everyone has a voice; and the ideas of all members of the community are heard and respected.
  • We are all learners and work together for best effect.
  • We are an inclusive community, and whenever possible all are invited to partake in community endeavor. 
  • Everyone has a responsibility to contribute to the learning community with respect, effort and investment.
  • We work together to write, implement and revise common purpose, goals and vision.
  • All members of the community can succeed and we work to foster that success for all.
  • Failure is expected, and we define failure as an opportunity for growth.
  • Learning is multidimensional including academics, the arts, physical education, social skill and emotional health and intelligence.
What tenets would you add to this list?  Which tenets might you delete or change?  How do tenets compare to values--are they the same, or is one more valuable than the other?  

Culture: What is it, how do we tend it, and what tenets define it?  This is a good topic to think about during summer days of study, reflection and family life.  Then when we return to our learning communities in the fall, we can work together to define and implement those tenets we feel are most important for student success and engagement. 

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Project Assessment?

Project Badge
This is at the final stage of our multi-week endangered species project, and I'm wondering what the project assessment will look like?

Some will argue that the assessment should have been in place prior to the project start, however I believe that can be limiting for big projects like this one.

I am not a big fan of using rubrics to guide projects with specific criteria, instead I like checklists which provide project sequence and scope, yet leave room for differentiated creativity and response. Big projects tend to take on a life their own.

When a project starts, I have a broad expectation of learning goals and presentation attributes.  For this project, I expected the following:
  • Thoughtful reading and research about the topic.
  • A written report that responded to specific categories of information and more if desired.
  • A collection of images that match the written portion of the presentation.
  • The creation of a short public service film that includes music, images and voice.
Once the project is introduced, I work side-by-side with students to help them complete the project and develop the specific standards and skills embedded in the project design. The specific skills embedded in this project included the following:
  • Reading for meaning.
  • Researching online and off to find specific information.
  • Writing text utilizing craft, grammar and correct spelling.
  • Writing a short persuasive public service message.
  • Understanding the broader concepts related to animal science and research.
  • Creating a Google presentation and iMovie.
At our school, we don't let children fail when it comes to learning. We work with them step-by-step to achieve an acceptable level of performance. Our goal is to bring each child forward with new and strengthened skills, knowledge and concept.

Tomorrow, I'll review the assessment form with students and give them a chance to complete and finesse their projects.  After our Museum Open House on Thursday, I'll complete an assessment form for each child and send it home with student's end-year report card and letter so that students and family members can acknowledge the project's strengths and plan for future learning.

How do you assess big projects?  What feedback do you think is most helpful?  How do you make room in your assessments for a project's evolution and change from start to finish?  In what ways do you make sure that all students learn and achieve an acceptable level of project completion?  These are all important questions as we continue to employ project/problem base learning in classrooms today to foster life long learning skills and endeavor. 

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Celebrate the 2012 Olympics!

Do you remember the excitement you felt each time you viewed the Olympics.  Our family would gather together to watch the extraordinary events, and play during those special summers and winters turned to Olympic play as we created gymnastics, swimming, hockey and running competitions similar to the athletic events we were viewing daily.  The Olympics served to inspire us as well as we talked about and listened to the stories of the athletes' lives and dedication.

Recently, students in our school celebrated the 2012 London Olympics with a school-wide assembly. Teachers pitched in to coach students and contribute their time to making the assembly a  success.  A dedicated fifth grade teacher guided students' speech writing and presentation skills.  Using the "ted talk" format, two students gave speeches about the famous Olympic medal winners, track star Jesse Owens and swimmer Gertrude Ederle. That teacher also guided another student's presentation about his father who participated in the Olympics. A small group of students created a film, and our art teacher and music teacher got together to lead the school in singing You’re a Grand Old Flag while second grade artists waved the red, white and blue bunting they’d created. The ceremony ended with an athletic event as three girls entertained students with unicyle riding and tricks. Throughout the assembly, another fifth grade teacher took wonderful pictures which were later published in the town newspaper as a way of sharing the event with the community. 

Hopefully, the assembly served to spur on students' and the community's excitement and anticipation for the 2012 London Olympics to come. Thematic assemblies are one way to pull a school community together to celebrate and learn about important cultural and historic events. 
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Ending the Year with Dignity: A Principal's Message

“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our 
minds. We can start over…The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. 
It’s hilarious...We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the 
end, it’s all we have.”     ~Marina Keegan ~ 2012

The principal at my school puts children first.  He treats them with dignity and care.  Similarly, he supports teachers with trust and kindness too.  I often say, "He puts the skip into our step and enlivens our creativity."  Thus we have a happy, caring school community.

Each month he writes a thoughtful newsletter with wise words.  Recently, he gave the learning community, parents, students and teachers, important questions and perspective to consider as we end the year.  He dedicated the newsletter to his former student and community member, Marina Keegan, who recently died in an unfortunate accident.  These are his words:

"The second purpose for which I use my closing newsletter has to do with the quote from Marina that began this piece. ~ It is in our human nature to compare. We do it all the time. Sometimes it is positive and motivational ~ other times it slows us down and clouds our vision. I know it is crucial to see each year of school in an individual way. The collective package creates the end product. If we make one year better than another, we can lose part of a lesson that may build an important part of the whole character. ~ To that end, it is important to reflect upon the school year ~ to find the lessons learned that (as Marina said so well) establish the possibilities that lie ahead. Each year brings lessons that make everyone stronger and no year goes without value. Note the successes and help your young learner to be positive as he or she comes home from Move-Along Day ~ and be positive about the year past and the new one to come. As you move from the year into the lazy days of summer haze ~ ponder these questions…  

1. What new ideas did you think about this year? 
2. Name five things you didn’t know about before the year started? 
3. What did you get better at this year? How did you get better at it? 
4. What people did you meet ~ in school ~ on field trips ~ in cultural enrichment ~ etc.? 
5. What projects did you do? Which ones came out the best and why? 
6. When were you kind to someone and how did that turn out? 
7. When did you try something new? 
8. Did you take any risks? 
9. Name one happy time. What were you doing?  
10. What was fun? 
11. What was challenging? How did you make it through? 
12. Who helped you and will you ever be able to help someone in that way? 
13. When were you helpful? 
14. How did you bring the core values of the school alive? 

The questions can go on and on if you have the time or a long drive to any of the many events or destinations that take us to our summer plans. However, as the conversation takes shape, the year will too, and you will find the places of success that every grade school year brings ~ those that  helped to develop the character of value that has changed your child forever… discuss with you child or children a time when they felt most successful, triumphant. Tell them to remember what that time was like and how they felt so they can keep that in mind and know that at least one way to learn is by building upon successes. Remind them that learning from mistakes and the times of challenge are equally as important because how we learn to navigate those times becomes the strength and courage that we need to get us to the successes and joyful times." - James Lee

Principal James Lee impacts the children and colleagues in his care each day.  Marina Keegan, his former student, was a gifted writer and recent Yale graduate whose life and words made her Person of the Week. In one of her essays, Song for the Special, she imparts a life enriching lesson and refers back to her time in Mr. Lee's fourth grade class many times.  Mr. Lee continues to impact the children and colleagues in his care with kindness, and with his words above he sets the stage for a dignified ending of the school year and a kind start to the next.
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