Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Our Favorite Books in January

Staff photos of our favorite books read in January.

What was your favorite book this month?  As part of our focus on all things books and reading, I asked the staff to send me photos of themselves holding their favorite book from January.  It could be personal, professional, a class read aloud--whatever book they enjoyed most.  

We wrote short reviews for our January selections.


After posting their photos on our staff classroom bulletin board, each person also wrote a short review to share with the group and then we posted them on our Read It and Rate It bulletin board.

My favorite book this month was Navigating Early  by Clare Vanderpool.  In this story, Jack, a young boy from Kansas is uprooted from his home in Kansas after the death of his mother.  His father, who has been serving in the Navy during World War II, enrolls him in a boarding school in Maine.  When Jack arrives at the boarding school, he meets an interesting character named Early Auden.  What ensues is an adventure of epic proportions as Jack and Early seek to find answers to questions that have been haunting them.  Early's story of Pi (the number 3.14....) adds a unique twist to the storyline.  It is really hard to describe just how good this book is with a brief review.  I hope you will add this to your "To Be Read" pile.  It is sure to be an instant classic.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Week of Professional Learning in Review

This week, we continued to work on professional learning in the area of writing instruction.  Teachers were asked to bring 2-3 samples of student writing to our meeting on Monday.  They were then divided into cross-grade level teams of teachers from K-2 and  3-5.  Each member of the group introduced each student's piece and read it out loud to their group.  Then the rest of the group gave positive feedback and asked questions. We spent both Monday and Tuesday completing the review of student samples and reflected on what we had gained from the experience.  On Wednesday, we reviewed a video clip of Lucy Calkins conferring with a young writer and critiqued it.  We then explored the Reading and Writing Project's website resources.   To end the week, I moderated a Tweetchat to discuss our learning.  I have included the chat below.  This was our 2nd Tweetchat of the year, and the first time I have used the Storify app to archive our discussion.    I feel it was a very successful week of learning for us, and I plan to continue to incorporate social media into our professional learning on a regular basis. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

What We Believe About Writing Instruction

This week, we continued building our repertoire of knowledge in the area of writing instruction.  Taking a cue from Lucy Calkins we came up with a pseudo "Bill of Rights" regarding writing instruction in our school and listed our beliefs as a staff.  As we continue to learn and grow, we may add some amendments, but for now this is what we all agreed upon.  It is our hope to use our collective beliefs and efforts to create an environment in which our students will flourish as writers. 
What We Believe About Writing Instruction

·       Writing is a subject and should be taught every day.

·       Students should have time to practice writing in class each day. 

·       Students should have a purpose/audience for their writing and frequent opportunities to publish and share.

·       Students should learn a variety of genres/types of writing and have time to practice them.
·       Students should be regularly exposed to mentor texts that highlight what good writers do.

·       Teachers should structure their writer's workshop so there is time for whole group mini-lesson, independent writing time that allows for student choice, conferencing, and sharing.

·       Grade level teams should collaborate on units of study and work together to gather resources, create lessons and assessments, and follow the same general timeline for instruction.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Power of a Challenge

 As of today, I am over half way through my 180 Book A Day Challenge that began back in August. I pledged to read one elementary level book for each day school is in session, based on our school’s theme this year:  “Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader.”   Born from that challenge I have been promoting the books I read on the morning announcements.  I have somewhat slacked from that job as of late, but with the new semester, I am pledging to get back to my regular appearances.  I have been keeping track of my books by printing small images of each book I read and posting them on a bulletin board titled, “Principal’s Picks of the Week” in our main hallway.  The five books I am reading that week or the previous week are also displayed for all of the students to see.

So what have I gained by taking part in this challenge?  One thing I have most definitely gained is a deeper knowledge about children’s books.  Not only do I have better knowledge of the books that are available in our school library, I also have a greater knowledge of children’s literature in general.  I hate to admit it, but before this challenge, the only Sharon Creech book I had read was A Fine, FineSchool.  I had no idea she had written such beautiful, and now much-loved, novels such as Walk Two Moons and RubyHoller.  If not for my challenge, I may have never discovered this!  That would have been a huge tragedy, indeed!  I may have never discovered that the world of non-fiction picture books has really expanded and changed in the past decade to include such beautiful books as Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet or that graphic novels are now all the rage with Jenni and Matt Holm's characters  Baby Mouse and Squish leading the charge! 

I have also gained a school community of readers as a result of this challenge—a community to which I belong and feel very much a part of.  Students recommend books to me or say, “Ms. Higgins, have you read….?”  I feel confident in telling a student I think he would really enjoy Fake Mustache by Tom Angelberger—BECAUSE I HAVE READ IT!     Another bonus is that my staff is also part of this community and we now talk more with each other about the books we are reading—be it for school or in our personal lives.  Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth have been making the rounds among the teachers (one of my favorite series that is not part of my school challenge, by the way), and many of them have also read Wonder by RJ Palacio and Matched by Ally Condie.  One of the greatest gifts I received this holiday season was from one of my teachers who wrote a letter to me, from her heart, and then attached a list of book recommendations.  Has that ever happened before?  No!  Why now?  Because I am projecting my love of books into my school community and showing them that books have the power to connect us all. 

This challenge has connected me with my students and staff in ways I never imagined, and I look forward to completing the second half of the adventure.  What books would YOU recommend I read?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Top 3 for Me in 2013

A new year. 
A fresh start. 
A time to set goals. 
A whole new set of 365 days for us to accomplish the things we didn't get to the year before.

Ah, yes.  It's that time when many of us begin setting new goals for ourselves, or as some fondly still call them "resolutions."  While I am not a firm believer in new year's resolutions, I am a firm believer in setting attainable goals to improve.  During winter break, I had a lot of time to reflect on things that I would like to accomplish during 2013.  Three things kept rising to the top.  I felt that by sharing them, I would be taking the first steps in attaining them.   So, here goes...

1.  Write More
Almost a year ago, I joined Twitter and started a blog.  I had no idea what I was getting into, and during the year I was pretty sporadic about my writing, including the topics I wrote about.  This year, I am hoping to become more disciplined with my writing and really make a commitment to make writing more a part of my daily life.  I am continually inspired by my PLN on Twitter.  Many of them write daily posts on their blogs that I subscribe to and look forward to reading each day.  They inspire me to read, write, reflect, and grow.  They also provide feedback to me when I do publish my posts that helps validate me as a novice writer.  Check out the "Awesome Blogs to Follow" sidebar on my homepage to see some of their amazing work!

2.  Read More
I made a commitment this summer to become a more avid reader, and it is really paying off.  I have read more (and more regularly) in the past 6 months than I have in the past 6 years!  Again, my PLN on Twitter continues to provide the inspiration and supportive atmosphere for reading.  I am continually exposed to reviews and recommendations and love hearing what others feel about what they are reading.  I have found a community of readers (#nerdybookclub) to which I now belong.  I hope to inspire my staff and students on a daily basis to become avid readers as well.  I was honored over break to have more than one of my staff members text me for book recommendations, and I enjoy the conversations I now share with my reading community at school.  I hope to expand on my reading journey in 2013, and I have set a goal on goodreads.com to read at least 213 books this year.  I have linked my bookshelf to the homepage of my blog to help keep track of the books I am reading, hold myself accountable by tracking my goal, and share the joy of reading with others.

3.  Move More
Two years ago, I became a runner.  No...I really did!  Though you wouldn't know it now.  In 2010, I began running and completed several 5K and 10K events.  I slacked a bit in 2011, but I still stayed active enough to survive a couple of races.  However, running began to be something I put "on the back burner" as I entered the world of the principalship that year.  I moved from being an assistant principal to being the principal with no assistant.  I used the extra workload and stress as an excuse to not lace up those sneakers and get out there.  In 2012 I really floundered and running and exercise  began completely fading away from my life.  Those pounds I had shed have crept back and reared their ugly head, the energy I once had is pretty well depleted, and my self-image is really beginning to suffer.  I realize I had basically given myself every excuse in the book to say that I was not worth the time or the effort to exercise.  Well, no more.  2013 is going to find me back in my sneakers and getting out there and getting fit again.  I am really looking forward to the challenge of getting back to the point where I can say, "I am a runner."  What's even more exciting is discovering there is a community of runners with which I can also connect via my Twitter PLN--check them/us out at #runteacherrun.

I truly believe if I can write more, read more, and move more, 2013 will be a great year!