Friday, July 10, 2015

Reading: A Lifetime Marathon

While I strongly identify myself as a reader, I somewhat embellish my identity as a runner.  Sure, I make every effort to run (or jog/walk) at least three times a week.  However, I'm definitely not what I would consider to be a proficient runner.  As I was huffing and puffing along this morning, I began thinking about my students.One of my favorite things to do is to listen to my students read a book to me and see the pride and joy on their faces.  I am especially excited to have a beginning reader share an experience of reading a whole book to me.  It's one of the greatest things I get to witness as a principal.  As I was thinking about all of this, I began to hit a wall in my running.  My inner self began to tell me that I couldn't run any further, it was just too hot and too tough to keep going.  I quickly tried to shut myself up and began visualizing myself running to the next landmark (which just happened to be a fire hydrant that looked like it was miles away).  I told myself I could do it and kept moving forward.  After all, I had great success running a 10K last weekend and knew I could successfully make it if I just kept going and didn't give up.  As I pushed ahead, I thought about how some of our students must feel when they are learning to read or working to reach that next stage of reading success and come to that point--the one where those inner negative voices in their heads try to creep up and tell them that they can't move forward.  What was it that was allowing me to continue on even though I felt like I couldn't breathe and my legs were made of lead?

Setting goals, preparation, and practice are three things that I feel have really helped me be a more successful runner, and they can also help our students become more successful readers.

Setting Goals
I have been working hard to get back into running shape for several months now.  I have put in the time at least 3 days a week to move my body and build my endurance.  As I run, I set goals for myself by visualizing myself meeting a specific landmark or mile marker and then setting my sights on the next one. Setting mini-goals like this helps me conquer distances little by little, thus allowing me to run further than I thought possible.  For our readers, it is also important for them to set goals based on their progress that will allow them to experience success and keep moving forward in their learning.  They need to feel small victories in order to keep reading!

I am conscious of hydrating my body and have been drinking plenty of fluids to be sure I don't cramp when out in this heat.  I have many different preferences for hydrating my body--water, various flavored sugar-free sports drinks, coconut water, etc.  No one forces me to drink just one type of fluid; I get to choose. Our young readers should also be allowed to choose what they "hydrate" with or "consume" as readers. Choice is an extremely important element in getting our students excited about reading.  While we can definitely steer them in the right direction by exposing them to high-quality read-alouds, teaching them how to identify "good-fit" books, and making sure there is an abundant selection of books for them to choose from, we ultimately need to let them choose their flavor of "hydration" in order for them to keep moving as readers.   If we are not allowing our readers to choose books that will quench their thirst, we are setting them up for defeat.

As a runner, the only way I have been able to increase my stamina is through practice.  If I don't do it, I can't do it.  The same holds true for our students.  As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure that all of our students have time to read independently each day.  At our school, there is an expectation that all students have a minimum of 20 minutes of independent reading time built into their day.  We have been pretty successful with this as we implement a structure for our reading block called The Daily 5.  It allows us to train our students to build their stamina and devour books when it is time to read independently.  We also use dismissal time as one of those Reading in the Wild opportunities. At our school, the dismissal process takes about 30 minutes due to loading one bus at a time as it arrives. While this may seem inconvenient to some, it is actually a great opportunity for us to have our students squeeze in some more independent reading time.  We have baskets of books available in our atrium area where our car riders are waiting as well, so that they are also able to squeeze in some reading while waiting for their parents to pick them up.  All of this practice helps build fluency, comprehension, and reading habits that will assist our students with their reading endurance.

Just like learning to run, learning to identify oneself as a reader is a marathon, not a sprint.  If we don't assist our students by supporting them with proper training, they may give up.  I identify myself as a runner because it is something I do on a regular basis and something I enjoy.  I want all of my students to identify themselves as readers and become avid consumers of the written word because it is something they do and enjoy. I don't want this to be an embellished identity, I want them to have true reading identities.  As we prepare to welcome back all of our students in just a few short weeks, it is important to remember that we can help make this happen for our students.  We can do this by helping them set reading goals and supporting them with the instruction to reach those goals, by helping them select books that interest them, and by giving them time to practice.  Let's help prepare our students for a lifetime marathon of reading and help them truly become the readers that lie within.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Effective Report Card Comments

Though hard to believe, the first semester of the 2013-2014 school year is over.  Last week, we sent our second round of report cards home with our students.  As I reviewed our students' report cards, my main objective was to review the teachers' comments.  As an administrator, that is the most useful information to me when I'm looking at a child's progress report.  Sure, the grades/standard ratings are important, but I find much more value in the written feedback provided by the teacher.

Comments provide an opportunity for teachers to give an overall "big picture" of a child's progress.  When I read report card comments, there are several things that I believe are essential in determining the strength of the teacher's feedback.  In addition to looking for the proper use of grammar and that the comments are free of spelling errors, the following items are "must-haves" in my opinion.

  1. Comments should begin with a positive statement.  I believe all parents want to feel like their child's teacher has a good relationship with their child, and beginning with a positive statement sets the tone for parents to be receptive to the feedback. 
  2. Comments should include specific strengths the student has exhibited during the grading period. For example, the student may have improved in reading, but instead of simply stating, "John improved in reading this quarter,"  I want to know what his specific improvements were.  "John improved in reading fluency (which is the rate at which a person reads and the expression that is used while reading).  His reading rate this quarter improved from being able to read 20 words per minute with proper expression to 45 words per minute." 
  3. Comments should include specific challenges or areas of need.  Rather than reading, "John is struggling with reading," I would prefer to have the teacher be a bit more descriptive.  "John is struggling with reading comprehension (understanding what he reads).  After reading, when asked "wh" questions such as who, what, when, where, and why, he often struggles with recalling the information from the text."  A statement like this leads right into the fourth item I look for when reading report card comments.
  4. Comments should include specific goals/next steps for the student.  Using the statement from above regarding John's struggle with reading comprehension, the teacher could set a goal.  "Next quarter, John's reading goal will center around improving his comprehension by using the strategy of checking for understanding.  I will meet with him frequently to help him practice this strategy during reading and document his progress."
  5. Finally, I look for the feedback to be as jargon-free as possible.  When using educational vocabulary or abbreviations such as WPM, fluency, comprehension, etc., it is important to explain what these terms mean.  Not all parents are educators.  Therefore, they may not have the background knowledge to decipher some of the terms that we, as educators, use on a daily basis.  
I appreciate the amount of time and effort that all elementary teachers put into providing effective feedback on their students' report cards.  As a former second grade teacher, I recall the hours spent writing comments each quarter.  And, while it does take some time to provide effective feedback, it is time well-spent.  Not only are parents more informed about their child's progress, the students' future teachers also have a road map of progress that they can use as reference.  As we get busy with instruction during the third quarter of the school year, it is exciting to me to think about all of the progress our students will make.  I can't wait to read all about it in March!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

One Word: Commitment

"Every New Year, 87% of adults--more than 206 million people--create new goals and resolutions, only to experience the same frustrating results:  false starts and failures.  In fact, 50% of resolution makers will fail by the end of January."  This is an excerpt from  One Word That Will Change Your Life, by Dan Britton, Jimmy Page, and Jon Gordon.  I recently read this book, and I have to admit that I have been on the failing end of several New Year's resolutions.  I really do enjoy this time of the year--the beginning--where we get the chance to "start again" so to speak. However, my resolutions usually begin like gangbusters and then quietly sneak off to the never-world.  This year, I needed to seek something different, so I downloaded the aforementioned book, and I have to say that I was instantly hooked.

The authors share with their readers their personal journeys and how the selection of "one word" to live by is a much more attainable goal.  They share how powerful words can be--"they have the power to inspire, encourage, appreciate, heal, and turn the impossible into the possible."  So, could I really do this--choose just one word to sum up an all-encompassing goal I have for myself in this new year?  I took the authors' advice and followed their three-step process:

1.  Prepare your heart by looking in.
2.  Discover your word by looking up.
3.  Live your word by looking out.

What I discovered along the way is that there are many powerful words out there that I could choose for myself.  How on earth would I know which word was my word?  I began a list of words that I felt were things I wanted to achieve in the new year--strength, health, fitness, energy, motivation, action, willpower, commitment...

On the morning of January 1, as my husband and I were watching the Today Show, I was stunned to see Jon Gordon introduced and a segment about One Word appear before my eyes!  My husband thought I was crazy, because I shouted, "Oh, that's the book I just read! I was planning to do this!"  I guess there was no turning back now--I HAD to select my "one word."  I needed to commit!

Funny how the word found me!  I ended up not choosing it so much as it chose me.  Commitment.  There it is.  In 2014, I look forward to all of the ways I can show my commitment.  First and foremost, I am committing to this word!  It is my word, and I'm going to own it.  What word will define you in 2014?

Check out the "One Word" website for additional resources.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

PLN Blogging Challenge

Most of you have probably seen the blog challenges going around on Twitter.  Some have been called the Sunshine Award, the Homework Meme, etc.  I haven't really paid much attention to those little chirps until now. 

"Tag, you're it!" was the message that popped up on my iPad, alerting me that I had received a tweet.  Thank you, Jessica Johnson, for "tagging" me and motivating me to dust off the old keyboard.  It's been quite awhile since I've taken the time to sit down and write anything on my blog.  2013 brought many changes for me--as you will soon read below. Hopefully I will be able to get back into the rhythm of writing in 2014.  This challenge may have been just what I needed to kickstart the process!

 The rules of the challenge
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.  (Thanks again, Jessica!)
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

11 Random Facts About Me

1.  I am a newlywed.  My husband, JD, and I recently got married in Las Vegas.  We are very happy!

2.  I recently received the first stamp on my passport as I traveled outside of the U.S. for the first time in my life.  We visited Aruba for our honeymoon. If you have never been there, I would highly recommend it.  The weather is perfect--88 degrees and sunny every day. 

3.  I have four children--3 sons and 1 daughter, ages 26, 24, 22, and 19.  Three of whom I've called my own since birth and one recent addition via marriage. 

4.  In 2013, I moved from Indiana (where I had lived my entire life) to Georgia.  My husband is from Georgia, and we decided that we were going to make our home there.  In the process, I resigned from an elementary principal position in Indiana that I absolutely loved.  I was very anxious about finding a new position in Georgia, but as it turns out, I found another position that I love very much as well!  I am the proud principal of Bethlehem Elementary in Bethlehem, GA.  As my mother told me as I was preparing for the job interview-- "Good things happen in Bethlehem."  Mom--you were right!

5.  I was a late bloomer.  I began my college career as a 25-year-old mother of three.  I went to school full time and was blessed to have my amazing mom help care for my kids while I attended classes. It was very rewarding to have my family in attendance as I walked across the stage to receive my degree.  

6.  In keeping with the late bloomer theme, I got my first teaching position at the age of 30.  I taught fourth grade for two years before transferring to another elementary in which I taught second grade for six years.   Another fun fact:    The first year I taught fourth grade, my oldest son was in fourth grade, and the first year I taught second grade, my daughter was in second grade.  (They attended a different elementary school.)

7.  I never really planned on becoming a principal.  I absolutely loved teaching and thought that I would always be in the elementary classroom.  Through opportunities to serve as a teacher leader, I found that I had a real passion for instructional leadership.  With some encouragement from the people around me, I enrolled in a Master's Degree program and ended up landing an assistant principal position before I had even finished my degree.  After three years as an assistant, I landed my first principal position.   I can't imagine being anything but a principal now!  (Although, I will ALWAYS consider myself a teacher.)

8.  I would love to write a book.  I am not sure what type of book I want to write yet, but I know when the time is right I will know what I am supposed to write.  Right?  

9.  I love to read.  My parents instilled this in me right from the very beginning.  I can remember many read alouds, and my mom still has some of my favorite childhood picture books memorized from reading them so many times.  While I kind of lost the love of reading for most of my middle school and high school years, I know that it was their love for books and reading and the solid foundation they had set that brought me back to something I dearly love.  When my husband and I were recently with my parents for the holidays, we watched my dad soar through a new James Patterson novel in one sitting.  Needless to say, my husband knows where I get it from now!

10.  It is my goal to run the Peachtree Roadrace in Atlanta in July.  There.  I needed to see that in print.

11.  I recently saw my celebrity crush in concert, and I am not ashamed to admit that I screamed and carried on like a teenager.  It was three hours of pure bliss!

Now, to answer the questions that Jessica posed.

1.  What is your favorite tv show?  New Girl, SportsCenter

2. What is one app or resource you’ve learned about on Twitter that has been a game changer for you at work? I can't really narrow this down to one resource since I believe Twitter has made me a better principal overall.  The resource that I find most valuable?  The people in my PLN.  I have learned so much from them and carry that with me into school each day.
3. What is your typical bedtime? I'm usually in bed by 10 or 10:30, but I've been known to be in bed by 9:00 if I'm really tired.  
4. Best book you’ve read in 2013? Tough question!  Can't narrow it to just one, so here are a few of my favorites of the year:  Allegiant (Divergent Trilogy), Requiem (Delirium Trilogy), Navigating Early, Reading in the Wild
5. Favorite Twitter Chat: #satchat and #titletalk
6. Best place you’ve vacationed? Aruba 
7. How has your PLN impacted you? I have taken many of my PLN's  great ideas back to school with me as a springboard for improvement or inspiration.  When I'm in need of an "educational pick-me-up", all I have to do is click on the little blue and white birdie on my ipad or phone and my PLN is there to help with anything I might be searching for.
8. What motivates you each day to be an educator?  The students and teachers motivate me each day.  I go to work each day eager and ready to learn, and I want my students and teachers to feel the same way.  Feeling like I have the opportunity to make an impact on any one of the hundreds of lives in my building each day is very rewarding.
9. What was the most amazing lesson you ever facilitated or observed? I'm going to "ditto" Jessica on this answer.  She wrote, "I’m always amazed when I see my teachers leading mini-lessons in reading/writing during the Daily 5 block. I wish I could go back in time and teach that way, because it’s so much more engaging and student centered than how I taught."  I feel the same way.  I wish I would have been able to implement this in my classroom.  I am always in awe when I see it working the way it is meant to! (I would also have to add that observing Ron Clark teach a lesson at the Ron Clark Academy was a pretty amazing experience, too!)
10. If you had a whole day to do just what you wanted, what would it be?  Spend time with my family
11. Favorite tv show when you were growing up? American Bandstand, The Brady Bunch, The Bionic Woman, Little House on the Prairie  (Dating myself here....)

Join the Challenge:
The same questions are posed to the following 11 bloggers.  Who's up for the challenge?

3.  John Schu

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Teach Like a Pirate Day

We embraced Teach Like a Pirate Day on October 23.  As a part of our book study, groups of teachers had to perform skits and teach the rest of the staff about their assigned letter/word from the book.  They did not disappoint!    

Pre-K Pirates
We had classroom scenarios, dancing, singing, and some very dramatic reenactments.  I was so very proud of everyone for bringing the pirate spirit to the day.  The students and parents were unaware of our planned theme, so you can imagine the looks we got as the students entered the building for their day of learning.
Kindergarten Pirates
There were many pirate-themed activities for the students such as a kindergarten treasure hunt that included students using a map to find their way to the front office where a treasure box waited with coins that had to be counted and recorded.

3rd Grade Pirates

4th Grade Pirates
5th Grade Pirates

1st Grade Pirates

2nd Grade Pirates

We have challenged our staff to continue to keep the PIRATE spirit alive in their lessons each day!  Aarrrgh!