Monday, August 18, 2014

It's those extra touches that make the difference....

When I walked into my room this morning on the first day of school, I had a list a mile long of all the last minutes things I needed to do before the kids came in.  As I unlocked my door I glanced over at the bulletin
board that highlights our summer reading and noticed all of the rainbow touches for our Wizard of Oz theme. We had worked so hard to put it all together so the children would be excited today and feel like they were walking into a magical place.  As I turned on the light I noticed a hand written note on a pad of hot air balloons, a handmade container with a chocolate bar and a rainbow pen.  The fact that our Principal had taken the time to write a sweet note - just warmed my heart.  Over the weekend she had visited every single class and left every single teacher a note.  We're not a faulty of 20 - We have 70-ish faculty members!  That she would take the time after we had left for the weekend to visit each classroom and write a note - well that absolutely blows me away!

On the first day of school there is always a WOW - something to excite children and just make them want to come back again tomorrow.  The WOW is always related to our theme.  So today we were treated to watching a hot air balloon!  Can you believe it? When we went outside it was lying flat on the ground and we watched as they heated up the air and the balloon.  And the next thing you know, there is our Principal floating away with Dorothy - just like the Wizard!

What an amazing day it has been!  There really is no place like Chets!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cart Girl Rides Again!

I am sure all schools have traditions that make them special, but one of my favorite traditions at the Creek is "cart girl."  Cart  Girl is usually the Principal or Vice Principal and sometimes a Coach who takes a grocery cart of snacks to each room during Teacher Planning at the most frantic time - for us, that's Thursday afternoon/ night - right before Friday Orientation for Parents and Students.  You're tired and hot.  You're frantic to get everything finished and in walks someone just to cheer you up. 

I will never forget my first experience at the Creek with someone actually bringing me a snack and asking how it was going and what I needed  when I was just about to the point of exhaustion getting my room ready.  I remember thinking - Oh my gosh!  This school really cares about ME!

I know what it is like in the Front Office this week.  Parents are enrolling.  Most have just gotten their class assignments and all those that want a class change are calling.  There are hundreds of decisions to be made.  It is a madhouse up there! No Administrator has time to stop and check on how everyone is doing, but that is exactly what happens. I really do work in a magical place! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

There's no place like Chets!

So... today we followed the yellow brick road to the Land of Chets, walking into the Emerald City by way of a hot air balloon, with the forest and Cowardly Lion on one side and Munchkinville on the other. I am continually amazed at the time and talent in our school.  KK Cherney, our Media Speicalist, with her sidekicks Karen Willet and Nikki Williams, spent weeks in the front Lobby preparing for our return (I might add that this is unpaid labor!)... and it was awesome!  There's something special about knowing that your colleagues care so much that they are willing to put so much of their heart into making the school such a special place for children and teachers.
We walked into the Dining Room with it's hot air balloons and rainbow balloon arches to find gifts of theme-related fun "stuff" - water and snacks, but also a calendar, a lanyard, a themed clipboard lovingly made by a retired employee, right out of Toto's basket.

Grade level skits always begin the day.  It's a chance for grade levels to show their creativity and fun.  My team presented a video this year - all recorded on an iphone!- all about "staying calm and clicking your heels."  It wasn't the video that was so special but the fun we had together making the video. That's what this first day is really about - getting to know each other.  Below is  my awesome 1st grade team - some of the most  talented and passionate teachers that I have ever known. Some of us have been together for years.  Some are new to our team and one is new to our school, but together we will do "oz-some" work this year!  So stay tuned...

New teachers have a special place in our first day with a simple "hazing" activity where they have to create a poem, song, cheer in about 10 minutes time.  It's always fun to watch the newbies as they quickly bond with each other and always come up with something cute!  They end by repeating a pledge promising to have a sensational, fun-filled year!

Finally, there is always professional development and today it had to do with mission and leadership.  We divided into smaller groups and worked collaboratively - a message as to the kind of learning that should be going on in our classrooms.
Then we enjoyed a potluck lunch to remind us that this is a homecoming, a family reunion - a time for us to come together and remember all the reasons that we care about each other.
There is no place like Chets!

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Summer Slide

This summer I have a looping class which means that the children I taught in kindergarten will loop up with me to first grade. Although there is always some natural attrition- parents separate and divorce and move away, parents are transferred, families move back home- about two-thirds of the class end of staying for the second year. I've looped classes before and one of the things that I have seen over and over is what is now being described by Richard Allington as the "summer slide."  It's simple. Children that don't read over the summer most often fall back a reading level when they are tested at the beginning of the new school year and those that read regularly, often visiting the public library weekly, move ahead a level. As you can imagine, the students that fall back are often those that are already behind.

So this year our Leadership Team thought they'd try to do something about it. Reading Allington's research is all it really took to light a fire under this Team. . Before I knew it, our media specialist had met with the Scholastic rep and designed an online summer reading program. She met with teachers and encouraged them to get kids logging in the last week of school. Several of our children were on the computer logging in the minutes they had read that very night. Of course, as you might expect, the students that were first to log on are also the ones that are already ahead and whose families  already furnish a rich language experience in their daily lives.

The challenge has always been how to encourage the others. Fortunately this program offered handouts in Spanish which helped many of my second language learners understand the expectation.  It even provided a paper version that the students could hand in at the end of the summer for those that don't have computer access. We were fortunate to have the Principal's support so she has offered a "prize" to any student that logs in 1500 minutes during the summer. We have pushed summer school teachers at our school and the two camp leaders that meet at our school to become involved.

Now I need to take responsibility for inspiring my own students and keep them reading throughout the summer.  My goal is to have 100% of the students log in at least once during the summer or to bring me a list of minutes at the end of the summer - no small task. This week I sent a personal post card to every student who has already logged in to congratulate them on their summer reading.  I am hoping to start an exchange with those students to encourage them to not only read, but to write. 

I sent a letter to those that haven't logged on yet, urging them to give the program a try and sending them their user name and password and a log in sheet just in case they haven't logged in because they don't have computer access.  Now this will be the third time I have sent this information on how to log in, but I figure if their parents keep seeing it, they might decide that it's important.  And besides most of these students (and their parents) will have to face me again in the fall! I don't know if this extra effort will really pay off but I certainly believe it will. In two weeks I will be sending encouraging emails - instead of using the postal service - and then two weeks after that I thought I'd start sending selfies of me reading at home, in the car, at the beach, to my grand kids, and every other way I can think to read.  I'd do a headstand while reading but I can't do a headstand! I  am hoping the children will begin to send me selfies back of them reading!  Can't wait to see if this eliminates the summer slide in my returning students!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Testing Rant

I have already ranted about the excess amount of testing in our county at the beginning of this school year for our youngest learners.  In our sixth week of school this year, our district finally revised its testing calendar and dropped the Science, Music, Art and PE pre and post tests that they had originally required of Kindergartners.  They also dropped the Reading, Math, and Science tests they had originally required at the end of each nine weeks and only required post tests in Reading in Math.  Hallelujah! However, they added  post tests for the computer programs we have been using... when we were able to get to the computer lab, as we worked around the computer testing program (we have one lab for 1300 students!)  To say this year was full of disorganized chaotic testing is an understatement.  The amount of hours of instruction lost to a ridiculous testing schedule is disgraceful.

Lucy Calkins made a statement about testing being the Titanic of the Common Core, and I think she is right. I'm not sure how testing got tied to the Common Core because there is nothing in our new standards that require the type of testing that is being done today.  Certainly we need to understand where our students are at any given time so that we know how and what to instruct, but it seems we've just gotten into testing, as if by simply testing students, they can improve!  We miss the point entirely.  Assessment completes the prescriptive cycle of identifying through assessment, writing a prescription, selecting the appropriate resources to instruct and then assessing again to identify the new targets.  Testing without engaging appropriate instruction is simply wasteful.

As I was leaving school this afternoon, I caught this picture outside the Test Administrator's Office.  Fifty-eight boxes were taped and labeled, ready to go to the District's Testing Office.  That's not the school required FCAT that was given in the Spring but 58 boxes of required county tests given to our K-5 students at the end of the year.  These will be used for performance pay for teachers although the inaccuracies are mind boggling.  I know that the intent is to move the county forward, but it just seems like the implementation has been boggled at every turn.  We were fortunate to have a Test Administrator who was able to shoulder the enormous time and responsibility of organizing the distribution and administration of such a massive testing schedule (I guess you could say her part time job was being the only Assistant Principal at our very large school!)  Her talent and perseverance were noticed and appreciated by all.

As for my school, we tried, as we always do, to carve a course through the mine field and to just keep doing what we know works.  We gave the assessments that we absolutely had to give, although it is difficult to trust the results of a new test - we were not able to depend on it for anything.  We did the best we could in a "red" school (meaning we do not have the technology infrastructure that we need to support the expectations of computerized testing) and tried to soothe the hysteria of high performing teachers who often were on the verge of tears knowing how hard they had worked and how much they wanted to prove it. The principal continued to work on relationships and easing the stress and pain, instead of playing into the panic.  She continued to assure our faculty that if we continued to keep our eyes on our students, we would prevail... and we have.

With a population that is changing (our second language and free/reduced numbers continue to climb) our results continue to remain high (we had the highest writing scores in the county!)  Our teachers are collegial and continue to depend on each other.  We are not always in charge of our own fate, but we are in charge of our destiny. We continue to see through the fog into the eyes of the children.  Now that is leadership.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Wonderful Land of Chets

Each year at our end-of-the-year luncheon, the Principal unveils the new theme for the following year. It's always such fun to guess what it might be. For the 14-15 school year we will be in "The Wonderful Land of Chets" because we know that "there is no place like home!"
Chets Creek Elementary - No Place Like Home 14-15 from Once Upon a Teacher on Vimeo.

End of the Year Luncheon

Each year, we close out the school year with a luncheon. We never pay for the luncheon (my husband had to pay $20 to attend his end-of-the-year school luncheon!) This year our luncheon was a gift from the Church at Chets Creek. Can't think of a better gift from the best business partner on Earth (their property is adjacent to ours)! The food at Clark's Fish Camp was delicious and of course, the d├ęcor of wild animals fit perfectly with our "Walk on the Wild Side" theme.

 Each year the presentation by the Principal is full of laughter and tears. It is always very emotional for me because I always do a lot of reflecting and that one hour reminds me of so many of the highs and lows of the year which is always a roller coaster of emotions. The Principal starts with letters she has received from parents and children and often staff members, and reads them out loud. Oh my! I wish I could post every letter so you could get a flavor for the type of people I work with! The Principal then calls many teachers and staff members up for awards - some funny, some serious, but always genuine. This year, as usual, you could feel the anticipation, the love and appreciation in the air.

I am honored and humbled to work with an amazing group of women on my kindergarten grade level and this year many of them were honored. Debbie was honored for breathing new life into our long tutoring partnership with Landstar and for volunteering at the MARC. Maria and Cheryl were honored for having more visitors than anyone in the building. What an awesome duo to represent Chets Creek to the visitors that come to see what we are all about. Pam was recognized for leading with heart as she has given sacrificially to our teaching friend who has been battling cancer this year. Tracy was honored for her work at the MARC and she and Vicky were honored for living through the battle zone - or for making a difference in the lives of children - depending on how you look at it.  Each kinder colleague could have been singled out because they are, without exception, teachers who care deeply about what they do.  Most of our grade level are "eagles" and we take a lot of grief for that - too many Chiefs and not enough Indians.  We can be loud and demanding and more than one speaker at our grade level meetings has complained that they can't get a word in and that we all talk over each other.  We have been working on that, but on the other had, you never have to ask for a volunteer, because someone usually has the task completed before you ask!  They are doers - movers and shakers.  Yes, they are demanding and super critical, but it's because they expect perfection.  For me, the word that describes them best is passionate.  They expect results... and they get results.   I love this group of women.  Being with them really is like flying with the eagles!

One of the most joyful moments of the intensely emotional luncheon is the end-of-the-year video, prepared by our Reading Coach, Melanie Holtsman.  If this doesn't say it all!  Love closing up  a year... so, you can begin thinking about the new one!  Enjoy the video!
End">">End of the Year - Celebrating A Walk on the WILD Side 13-14
from Once">">Once Upon a Teacher on Vimeo.">Vimeo.&gt