Saturday, August 25, 2012

Choose Kind

We live in a world of put downs, reality shows that encourage name calling and fist fights, gossip magazines and television programs that highlight celebrities making poor choices. News reports highlight crime and wrongdoing. Negative headlines are the norm.  Even most comedy programming is based upon making fun of others.  Our kids are inundated on a daily basis with images of disrespect, violence, and generally uncouth behavior. So how are our youth supposed to view their world? How are they to determine how to treat others?

Wouldn't the world be a better place if we all made a conscious effort to "choose kind?"  As I reread RJ Palacio's Wonder this weekend, I hoped that Palacio's story would have a meaningful and positive impact on the students in our fifth grade classrooms. All of my fifth grade teachers chose to begin the year with one of my all-time favorite books as their first read aloud. 
In Wonder, Auggie Pullman's unique differences are a daily battle for him.  He experiences the stares, the name-calling, and the lack of tolerance first-hand.  This book is a portrayal of how cruel society can be when someone is viewed as "different."  It is my hope that this book can help our students learn that those who can look beyond appearances and choose to treat others with kindness will help make the world a better place. 

Each day in our building, we say our school pledge that includes "Today I will do the right thing and treat people right."  It is our hope that we can help our students internalize those beliefs and practice them daily.  I am proud of my fifth grade teachers for choosing such an inspiring story to start the year with.  As our fifth graders become familiar with the wonder of Wonder, I hope that they can begin to see the world from Auggie's perspective and make a conscious effort to "Choose Kind."
 Book Trailer for Wonder by RJ Palacio via


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Kicking Off the Year Promoting Reading

This summer,  as I was contemplating the goals I would set for myself for the new school year, one idea kept rising to the top.  I set my sights on becoming the lead reader and number one promoter of reading at my school.  Why?  I want my students and staff to love books and reading just as much as I do.  I want all of my students to be successful readers and lifelong learners.  If I am not the lead reader in the building and setting an example for others, how can I expect my staff and my students to be avid readers?

Here are 5 things I have done to kick off the school year promoting reading at Mayflower Mill.

1.  Summer Reading
This summer I decided that I was going to buckle down and do a lot of reading in preparation for the school year.  I had set a goal for myself to read at least 20 professional, children's, and young adult books.  I surpassed that goal, also reading some best selling "grown up"  novels.  I made reading a priority in my summer plans and was excited to share my summer reading picks with others.  When I returned to school in mid-July, I began creating a collage on the door to my office to advertise the books I read this summer.  It's been a hit with both students and staff, and I have great recommendations to pass along. 

2.  180 #bookaday Challenge
To get students excited about books and reading, I announced that I would be doing a 180 #bookaday challenge.  I will read one picture book a day for each day we are in school.  Each morning on our daily announcements,  I give a brief review of the book I read the day before.  I include the title and author of the book and end my review with some type of hook that I hope will make everyone else want to read the book too.  I created a bulletin board in my office for a monthly display of the books I am reading for my #bookaday challenge. I am also strategically placing myself in prime locations to read the books so that students see me reading.  One day I sat near the entrance to the lunchroom as my second graders were entering.  They got really excited, and I heard many whispers of, "Look!  Ms. Higgins is reading another book!" 

3.    Staff Book Study:  The Book Whisperer
One of the books that inspired me to be a bigger promoter of reading was The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks).  I was so inspired, in fact, that I purchased this book for all of my teachers.  We will be reading it and discussing it during our morning professional development time.  I am hoping that many of them will feel just as inspired as I did after reading it. 

Currently Reading: About the Authors: Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers by Katie Wood Ray

4.  Currently Reading:  Promoting Books Via Email
I saw this idea on Twitter.  I added a line at the end of my email signature that identifies what I'm currently reading.  I update my signature each time I begin a new professional book.  This is a great way to advertise to everyone I communicate with that reading is important to me. 

got stamina?

5.  Stamina Challenge
Mayflower Mill is a Daily 5/CAFE school.  Therefore, we begin each year with building our students' reading stamina.  "Read to Self" is the first component of Daily 5 that we teach to all students.  This is done by the teachers working with the students to identify what it should look like, feel like, and sound like during a time they are reading to themselves.  Then, teachers allow students to read independently and train them to increase their stamina so that they can build up the amount of time they can stay on task with their reading.  One way we promote increasing stamina is by having a Reading Stamina Challenge.  I have the teachers chart their students' daily stamina time and then collect the average number of minutes each class was able to read independently for the week.  I then announce their average reading stamina times on the morning announcements and congratulate them on their efforts.  This challenge is a fun way to get the students excited about being independent readers. 

So, there you have it!  5 ways that I am building excitement for reading this year.  There are many more plans in the works, so I will provide updates as the school year progresses. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Are You Ready?

"Are you ready for school to begin?"  It's one of the most popular questions we educators get asked by friends, relatives, acquaintances, students, parents--pretty much anyone who knows what we do. If I had a dollar for every time I had been asked this question, I would be well on my way to purchasing a second home in the South of France.   As I have been asked about this over and over again during the past few weeks, my answer has never wavered--Yes!  I am so ready for school to begin!  I can't wait!

Don't get me wrong, I love my summer vacation.  It is a time for me to relax, reflect, and re-energize.  However, by the end of July I start getting antsy.  I come down with "Back-to-School-itis."  I begin to get excited about all of the promising possibilities a new school year brings.  I begin thinking about my wonderful students and staff and long to be back with all of them, witnessing the miracle of learning.  For me, this is the most exciting time of the year. 

I do you answer that question?  Regardless of how you answer, the first day of school is just around the corner.  You have the power to set the tone for your school year by being excited it's here. Or you can choose to begin the year feeling depressed that summer has come to a close.  I choose to set myself, my staff, and my students up for the best school year ever--because I truly am ready!  I hope you feel the same sense of joy and excitement as I do!

I can't wait! Let's do this!