Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kindergarten PLC, 2008

I love WOW days! They give us a chance to get together as a grade level and watch one of our colleagues teach, and then take a few subjects and discuss them in depth. Today we began with a demonstration lesson of Math Counts by Cheryl Dillard. This addition to Math Investigations gives application to our Math curriculum.

After the demo and debrief we turned our attention to the task of a common form to direct our mid-term conferences with parents. Each teacher shared the form she is currently using and we discussed the pros and cons of each. We discussed what we really need parents to know and take away from these conferences. Next we divided into small groups and charted parent-friendly home activities for Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Comprehension, Fluency, Writing and Math. These are activities that we can suggest to parents when their child is struggling. The compiled lists were taken by Haley Alvarado who volunteered to write the activities in parent friendly language. They will come back to the grade level for edits and revision before they are finalized to be used with parent conferences.

The grade level enjoyed lunch out which is a pleasure but also provides a time for the grade level to get to know each other in a more personal way. With 14 kindergarten teachers, it is always a challenge to really get to know your peers!

After lunch it was time to share our work around the Author Study of Eric Carle. As always, teachers are encouraged to think outside of the box and to do what their students REALLY need. Although everyone is using Eric Carle as the basis for Readers' Workshop, the Timmonte group has decided to make a radical departure and write pattern books during Writers’ Workshop since so many of Eric Carle’s books are “question and answer” and “repeating line” patterns. This work is based on First Grade Writers.

To enhance Readers' Workshop Maria Mallon has really concentrated on ways to retell some of Eric Carle's books using kid-drawn pictures.

Sanchez, the Mackarado intern shared an art project, a mobile that she is using as a way of retelling Carle's delightful books.

Several teachers shared charts of a variety of reading responses taught in mini-lessons and student examples of Readers' Response Notebooks, all around Carle's books.

Teachers shared charts about Eric Carle’s life, attribute charts, etc.

Others shared rubrics they are using for their genre work in Response to Literature during Writers’ Workshop.

You could see the wheels turning as teachers pushed their peers’ thinking. Hopefully everyone walked away from the day with an added depth to their Author Study.

Finally Team Leader Debbie Harbour shared her organization of an Eric Carle Culmination Day to include the entire Team.

We ended our day thinking about “the power of our dreams.” Before dreams can come true, you have to have dreams. Each teacher was asked to share her professional dreams for the next five years. Teachers shared their dreams to complete Masters degrees and National Board Certification (there are 5 Nationally Board Certified Teachers on this team!) Many talked about their dreams of sharing their work with visitors, beginning teachers and interns. Most still see themselves at Chets Creek in five years in this learning community, some with a short interim to have children or raise families. All in all, my dreams have already come true… I have been given the opportunity to share my time with this group of talented, caring, dynamic teachers… and that's why I believe in the power of the dream…

Thursday, February 21, 2008

At-risk Discussions

Today the principal met with each grade level during their traditional Teacher Meeting time. She asked each teacher in turn about the children in her Progress Monitoring notebook that were"at-risk." She has a notebook for each grade level. She looked at each child's Diagnostic scores, she wanted to know if a PMP (Progress Monitoring Plan signed by the parent) had been written, if a retention note had been sent, if the child had ever been retained, if the child had been referred to the  Intervention Team and what the teacher was doing to make sure that the child would be as successful as possible. The Guidance Counselor also attended the meetings all day making notes of children who need to be seen because they are going through a hard time or whose parents need a call or families who may need help with repeat head lice causing repeated absences or children who just need motivation or maybe a mentor. Next week teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, office staff and custodians will be asked to step up and "mentor" one of these identified children.

In kindergarten we discussed about 30 children, noting that many of them were siblings of those identified earlier in the day. What sets these discussions apart is that teachers bring their data. They know their children and can quickly list the interventions - Reading Mastery with Julie, a parent volunteer coming in to drill letters and sounds, multiple parent conferences, small group or one-to-one work, Target interventions - that they are using to make a difference. You cannot hide in these meetings because you are held accountable, but the conversation is also not threatening. The other thing you feel in these meetings is that teachers really care about children. You don't hear sarcasm and snide remarks. The teachers don't spend time blaming parents or making excuses. They are reflective. They ask questions. They ask for help when they need it... and I hope they leave with a more cohesive plan of action. That, after all, is what this day is all about!

Book Study Begins

Today our faculty divided into Book Study Groups. We each signed up for a book of our choice. The principal purchased a book for each faculty member (how great is that!) We will be reading and discussing our book over the next four Early Release Days (which means the students leave an hour and a half early every other Wednesday). I have chosen a thin little book that is about divorce, The Broken Letter: Divorce through the Eyes of a Child - a subject that mutilates so many of our children.

One of the purposes of these book studies, besides giving teachers choice in their Professional Development, is to provide for some vertical articulation. My book study group certainly does that because this is a group I don't have as much contact with as my regular kindergarten peer group. It includes our music teacher, 4th grade Language Arts teacher who is known for getting great writing scores from challenging children, a 3rd grade co-teacher with a fun sense of humor, a 4th grade Math teacher that came to us after the year started, and a 4th grade male intern. The group is facilitated by a third grade language arts teacher. We will be meeting in the classroom of a second grade Language Arts teacher in one of our portables (we call them "cottages"), a room I rarely visit - not sure exactly why the principals chose the rooms that she did for meetings, but this will be interesting because I don't ususally make it out to the cottages and it's always interesting to see someone else's room. Maybe that's the point!

Today we simply got our books, met together to see who was in our group and where we would be meeting and actually decided how much we would be reading for each session. Across the building this scenario was repeated - people getting to know each other a little better - a little tentative - wondering how they were going to like their group but being a little jazzed about something new.

In the past we have stuck to more traditional non-fiction "about teaching" books. This time we took a little different bent and chose "story books." Not only will we be talking about the books' themes but we will also talk about the author's craft that we see in each book. Each group has from 5-8 teachers with several groups studying the same book. The books that we chose for this professional development opportunity are The Broken Letter, Nineteen Minutes, They Cage the Animals at Night, A Child Called It, Beautiful Child, Faking It, and The Water is Wide. We really want teachers to live the life of a reader so this is a way to encourage that process! Interesting, huh?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pacing Guides

We have a kindergarten Pacing Guide that guides a teacher with echoes across the day, giving suggestions for strings of mini-lessons in Read-aloud, Skills Block, Readers' Workshop, Writers' Workshop, Problem of the Day (Calendar Math), Math, and Science (see 3rd nine weeks Kindergarten Pacing Guide below). The Pacing Guide is meant to be just that - a guide to lay out, especially for new teachers, a suggested way to fit everything in during the year. However, we know that classes do not move at the same pace, so teachers have always had the descretion to tweak the Pacing Guide to meet the needs of their own class. If we tell teachers to look at the children's work today to write the lesson for tomorrow, then we have to give them the profession freedom to do that.That is what recently happened in our classroom. As the class is beginning an Author Study of Eric Carle, the teachers have decided to skip and not to do Authors as Mentors in the Writers' Workshop as is suggested in the Pacing Guide. They will pick up the skills in that book in 1st and 2nd grade as the curriculum spirals. This book really depends on author's craft. As the teachers looked at the author's craft in the Eric Carle series of books they decided that this group of books fit better with a study that we read and worked with last year, "Pattern Books" from First Grade Writers by Stephanie Parsons. As Kindergarten and first grade teachers worked through that book last year we decided that the chapter on pattern books could be taught in Kindergarten, but we had a hard time deciding where we could fit it in. This group of teachers think they have found the right fit! So... they will try to meld the Eric Carle Author Study in Readers' Workshop with a study of pattern books in Writer's Workshop.  At the end of this year, all of the kindergarten teachers will get together and discuss their strengths and challenges this year as they write a new and improved Pacing Guide for next year's teachers.

The important thing here is that we trust teachers as professionals, not to turn the pages straight through a Teacher's Manual, but to think deeply about their curriculum, to make informed decision to drive their instruction, to look at the students' work to assess the next step and to reflect as those decisions are to made. That's what real teaching is all about!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Disney Way

Each year the principal chooses a book for the Leadership Team to read and discuss. It usually has a connection to our yearly theme (Dreams Begin Here) and usually has a management/ leadership thread. This type of book study has been a hallmark of the Leadership Team over the years. We read a chapter each week and then discuss it. We have been working on this book for a while, but today I reflected on what I have learned through the study of this book. These are some of my reflections as they relate to Chets Creek:

Disney had 4 simple steps: 1) Dream beyond the boundaries of today. 2) Believe in sound values. 3) Dare to make a difference. 4) And then go out and just do it: Dream, Believe, Dare, Do. I hope these are the same things I believe and act upon in my own professional life. I certainly hope that I still dream of possibilities and then dare to go for it! When I no longer believe that my dreams can come true, then it'll be time to retire!

  • In so many ways I think we have developed a culture at Chets that defines Walt's vision of a culture of innovation, mutual respect, and trust.
  • You can wait for something to happen or you can take control of your own dream and work to see it through.
  • Creative power can languish within a school simply because no one ever bothers to tap it. Give every member a chance to dream. I think of each of the teachers that I coach and wonder if I really give each of them a chance to live their dream. I certainly am living mine!
  • There is a difference between adequate and excellent and we must not compromise. It matters to the children that we teach! Superlative work sets the bar. Mediocrity is not an option.
  • Stand firm on your beliefs and principles. Follow your instincts.
  • Train extensively and reinforce the school's culture with new employees. This is one of the things I think we do well with our induction of new employees and our strong mentoring and coaching program.
  • Pay close attention to details. This is something we used to do well, but have to keep reminding ourselves of now. It's so easy to just accept the status quo and we have to constantly remind each other that details are so important.
  • Your most unhappy parents are your greatest source of learning. I'm not sure everyone agreed with this philosophy, but these are the ones telling you how you can improve if you can put your defenses down long enough to listen.
  • Go the extra mile yourself. When those you coach know you are counting on them and see your example, they will rise to levels beyond their own expectations of themselves.
  • Support, reward and empower employees. Encourage teachers to voice opinions and make suggestions. In fact, solicit their advice. We probably think we are better at this than we are!
  • Have fun! This is one that we do very well! We work hard but we also play hard!
Each of these ideas has been discussed at length at the Leadership table. Diversity of opinion has sometimes been strong but it is those that disagree with you that challenge you to raise the level of your thinking. When we lack this tension of diverse opinions in our Leadership meetings, I think we leave dissatisfied, wondering if we are wasting our time. We cannot surround ourselves with people that all think like we do and think we will move forward. We are at our best when we can disagree - stating our opinions in a trusting professional atmosphere and then coming to a consensus that we can all agree with. That is when we stand strongest and realize our collective dream!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentines!

Today is Valentines Day and our kindergartens are abuzz with excitement. Each day this week some of the children have come in and asked, “Is today Valentines Day?” They can hardly wait and today it’s here! Classes have been working all week on their messages of love. Many of the students wrote love notes to parents, but Madison wrote to her good friend Alyssa as her class used the week's Writers' Workshop to work on writing letters.
Happy Valentines Day! I am glad you are coming to my house. We are going to play Bingo and we are going to watch a movie and we are going to eat popcorn. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom!
Bye bye,

Florida Writes!

This week 4th graders take the Florida Writes! which is Florida's state writing test. Students are timed as they are given one of two possible prompts in expository or narrative. The second day of testing includes a multiple choice test of writing mechanics. Why is this important to a kindergarten teacher?
The 4th grade writing captivates us ALL because those were OUR students. We were the ones that first introduced them to the genres of narrative, informational writing (reports), how to (functional writing) and responding to literature. We were the ones that helped them learn to sound out unknown words and to use their sight vocabulary. We were the ones that showed them how to use the word wall to write new words. We were the ones that celebrated those early stories and smiled at the way they invented spellings. Our children at Chets Creek have been involved in a daily Writers' Workshop since the first day that they stepped onto our campus. We have conferred with them as authors and given them suggestions for how they could take their writing to the next step. We were the first to introduce them to a simple 3-point rubric so they would know when their writing was good enough (like the one shown, currently in Conte-Timmons-Happ's kindergarten classroom on the left).

As OUR 4th graders write this week, we will come early to remind some of our former students that we are pulling for them, that we believe in them, and that we know they will make all of us proud. You see, writing is not a 4th grade skill; it's a skill that we begin with a foundation in Kindergarten and add new strategies each year. These are OUR children and when the scores come in these will be OUR scores. We can't wait!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I have been thinking about this word "passion" recently, as in, find your passion and if you do you'll never "work" a day in your life. I believe that we are all given gifts and talents and that when we match those gifts and talents with a passion, that we have the capacity to do great work. Passion is about love and a hunger that simply compels you. You have no choice. You have to walk down that path that pulls so strongly at your heart. That's what I hope for all teachers - to have deep within their being - a passion and a love for what they do. Work fills such a large part of our lives. If we do what we really believe in, we will do great work. But, the only way to do great work is to be passionate - to love what you are doing. If you do what you are called to do, you will never be tired. And if you are tired, you may not be walking the path you were meant to walk. Everyone deserves to look back at their life's work with deep satisfaction. Teachers who have that sense of knowing that they are where they are suppose to be are able to give of themselves. Those that don't, owe it to themselves and to the children and families that walk through their door, to abandon this work and find the work that will make them happy.

Do you have a passion for your work?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Duval County Teachers of the Year

I have spent the last few days reading about and interviewing the semi-finalists for the Duval County Teacher of the Year. I think the collective wisdom of these teachers across the county reflect the same trends I see in our teachers at Chets Creek. As I reflect on all that I have heard and learned, several themes have been repeated:

  • Teachers in Duval County are reading professionally! I can remember when we were afraid to ask a question about a teacher's professional reading, because we thought the question might embarass teachers! This group is different and that is a sign that teachers are living their lives as readers! Some of the books that teachers mentioned include The Starbucks Experience,  Fish! Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, No Quick Fix, Professional Learning Communities at Work, Entertaining an Elephant, Whale Done, What Really Matters in Fluency, The Fluent Reader, Still Learning to Read, Helping Teachers Teach , Ban Those Bird Units, Framework for Understanding Poverty, and First Class Teachers!

  • Another thing that came through loud and clear is that relationships are the key to results. Teacher after teacher talked about reaching individual children - especially those hard to reach, challenging students - by getting to know them on a deeper level. Teachers talked about eating lunch with their students to get to know them better, attending soccer games and dance recitals, making home visits, keeping in touch over the summer by dropping books by the home, having after-school clubs such as a Puzzle Clubs to give students a place to come and talk, taking kids to parks and the beach, out to dinner, out for ice cream, shopping, to the movies and to church. All of this, of course, is "over and above" the teaching day but in each case teachers talked about how this extra effort to connect with a child transferred into positive academic results. These "off the clock" experiences made a difference in the lives of children, but as the tears often flowed, you could tell that they also made a difference in the lives of the teachers.

  • Teachers also understand that they are in partnership with parents and many offer activities after hours to pull parents into the education of their children including weekly nights at the public library, parent workshops, "Bring Your Parents to School" days, and giving parents access to personal phone numbers and e-mails so that parents can call and write for "anytime" conversation. They understand that parents are the most important teachers and they are often willing to step into the parental role if that parental influence is missing.
Most of all I realize that we have so many teachers who care so deeply and who are giving so much to making a difference in the lives of our children on the First Coast. The words passion, commitment and dedication came up over and over. I was awed and humbled to listen to their intensity. One semi-finalist called teachers " our heroes." I think she is right!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I have been away for the last week in Hollywood, CA for the America's Choice National Conference. Many exciting things happened at the conference. Below are some of my reflections from a Kindergarten prospective:

  • Maria Mallon and Haley Alvarado videoed a live kindergarten lesson as it was happening from the East Coast in Jacksonville, FL to the West Coast of Hollywood, CA! Wow! Not only was the technology amazing but Maria's kindergartners were working on deciding when a narrative piece is good enough by using a class-written rubric! How much I admire these teachers who were willing to take a risk and teach a lesson for the very people that wrote the Design!
  • Debbie Harbour presented our kindergarten work with vocabulary. She explained the professional learning community that had formed around the need to deepen our vocabulary work. She explained how we studied the work of Beck and McKeown and then wrote a vocabulary unit around 12 well known kindergarten read alouds  She showed some of the data results as we prepare to revisit and edit this "work-in-progress" over the summer.
  • Debbie Cothern and Michelle Ellis, looping K-1 teachers, shared our journey as we have raised the level of our standard-based bulletin board work.
  • As a Special Education teacher I presented on the intensity of my interventions as I was reminded of the small window of opportunity that we have with our young at-risk learners to make the most difference. This continues to noodle around in my head as I try to figure out how to make the most of the rest of this year with the childen that I teach.
Most of all I was reminded of the incredible people that I work with every day - people who were willing to blog this conference live - even though none of us had ever done it before - people who were willing to come together and discuss new ideas over dinner - people who believe in and embrace the possibilities! I have always believed that I have the best job in the whole world, so this was just a reminder that it really is true! This is the place where dreams really do come true!