Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First Readers' Workshop

Readers' Workshop in Kindergarten begins on the second day of school. In Mrs. Alvarado's class she gathers the children on the carpet, teaches them the song that will let them know it is time for Readers' Workshop each day and then explains to them that Readers' Workshop is a time that we learn all about reading. She shows the children the baskets of books she has placed on each table and tells them that they will be "reading" the books today. Of course, a couple of the children pipe right up and say, "I can't read!" She goes on to open a picture book, shows the children a picture and tells them that even when they can't read the words that they can "read" the pictures. After all, that's what all good readers do! This is the beginning of teaching children to retell stories that they know from the pictures and teaching them their first comprehension lesson of looking at the pictures to get the meaning of the story. Happy Reading, Kindergartners!

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Back-to-School "Thriller"

Teachers returned to school today. I have written about our new theme, "Orchestrating a Symphony of Student Success" and today the theme came to life. The teachers assembled in the lobby for breakfast, grade level pictures (Kindergarten country cowpokes were first up) and the first "game" of the day. Each teacher had a famous singer/musician's name placed on her back. Each teacher had to guess the name on her back by asking one question to each person on her team. The first team to turn in all the names won the round and also a gift card for each team member!

Then it was into the Dining Room with its theme decorated tables including such items as music themed clip boards (handmade by the fabulous Marvine!), mugs, pens and booklets, and Peterbrook chocolate popcorn (yum!) Each grade level sat together because today is a day about team building. The first to enter were the Office Team which included the Principal, Standards Coach, Technologist and Office staff. They presented a skit that brought down the house with their version of Thriller - watch this little musical snippet!

Then each team in turn presented a funny irreverent skit based on their genre of music. Some of the skits were prerecorded using the technology that we have been learning and others were live, but regardless, they all left you laughing. Of course there were gift cards for the best skits!

Next on the agenda was the Principal's summary of our data story and an assignment for the teams to work on goals for the year. These were collected and will be used to drive the School Improvement Plan and the work of each Curriculum Council. The day alternated between work and play. One of the most entertaining activities of the morning was a chance to play at music centers where teachers got to play with percussion's "as if they were a child" and then each grade level presented an original musical number. Kindergarten was the big winner of the original song category with their musical rendition of a kindergartner! Hysterical! Again, of course, gift cards for the winners!

New teachers were certainly not ignored. They were given 5 minutes to come up with a Soul Train line, so they danced without abandon to everyone's delight. Then of course, they had to take the official Chets Creek pledge!

The day ended with the Principal, a former Kindergarten Teacher herself, reading us a children's book and finishing with a slide show of some of our most challenging children to the music of Michael Jackson's "Will You Be There?" It helped each of us get in touch with why we do what we do! Oh, and did I mention that there was a drawing on every grade level for an ipod? We finished by lunchtime and were treated to pizza. The afternoon was free for teachers to work in their rooms. Now this was really a back-to-school Thriller!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Greater Than Yourslef

This year's Leadership book study is Greater Than Yourself by Steve Farber. In usual Farber-style the book is a parable that tells the story of a philosophy called GTY, Greater Than Yourself. It's a quick read. It reminded me a lot of Jim Collins' Level 5 Leader - the self actualized leader with self confidence so intact that he didn't have to claim credit for himself - the leader who easily gives up the limelight to build up others. GYT includes three tenets: Expand Yourself, Give Yourself and Replicate Yourself.

Expand Yourself reminded me of advice I used to give my daughter. You will attract the opposite sex when you stop thinking about who you will attract and concentrate instead on being a better you. It's being good in your own skin that's attractive. Farber insists that you need to continue to learn. In this step he suggests that you take inventory of what you do well and then choose someone to share your talents.

Give Yourself means to give to that project without expecting anything in return. Of course, he goes on to explain that you really do get lots in return. This step to me is all about relationships and being able to share with abandon - without worrying if it will make the other person looks better. It's the total philosophy at Chets that we are transparent and that we have a moral and ethical obligation to share what we are fortunate enough to learn. It's the difference in being at a school with teachers that collaborate to make the whole better instead of being with a group of teachers that complete because they have to be top dog. In that type of school, teachers don't share because they want to be better than the next person so they share none of their "secrets.". In a school like Chets, everyone shares because they want everyone to be better.

Finally, Replicate Yourself. Find and train your replacement. It's sort of the way you feel about your children. You so want them to out-achieve you.

There's really nothing about this philosophy that I don't believe and try to live. I guess it's just the idea of intentionally identifying a project that puts me off a little. It seems a little arrogant to decide that you are so good at something and then choose somebody that's not to "fix." I figure I've been Melanie Holtsman's GTY project for quite a while now. She knows so much more about technology than I do and she gives time to teaching me almost every single day and she certainly expects nothing in return! Who else could have gotten me to try Twitter and have me thinking about Facebook?!! I guess it's just the part about ever being better than she is at technology that has me rolling in the floor! Nevertheless, this is an interesting book and something to think about...

Friday, August 14, 2009

New Concept for Leadership Team

It's the Friday before the first day that teachers come back and I spent most of the day at school noodling around with our new concept for leadership. I was joined by 20 other teachers who took time from their last day off to come and meet!

Last year we continued a tradition at Chets Creek that has served us well with a Leadership Team that met once a week. The Team was led by the Principal and made up of the Standards Coach, Technologist, Media Specialist, Guidance Counselor and a handful of lead teachers. In previous years the Leadership Team had really been the engine that soared student achievement ahead. They were the brains - the guiding force - the group that dreamed the impossible dreams and then made them a reality. We debated issues and brainstormed possibilities. Nothing seemed impossible. While we continued that same workable formula last year, with many of the same dynamic people that had so inspired us in previous years, last year the formula just didn't work. Maybe we simply got stuck in a rut. People came to the table as usual, but without that sparkle that had been so characteristic in the past. Maybe we lost focus on our common mission or maybe the vision began to fog. I'm not really sure but the electricity in the room dwindled to a smooth, but lackluster current. We slowly evolved into a management team without the zest, depth and joy that had once characterized our meetings. The diversified leadership at Chets is not characterized by a single charismatic leader but about the synergy of the group and, in my opinion, the group simply lost its deep connection. Give us credit for realizing that we needed to make a change. Don't get me wrong. We had a great year. We are still an "A" school with our 4th graders leading the charge and making substantial gains on our state's test. We are only one of a small a handful of schools within our county that made AYP, but I think we realized that something just wasn't as good as it could be and we've never been satisfied with good when we know we can be great! We have always wanted more and expected more of ourselves than others may have believed was possible.

Jim Collins says that in order to go from good to great that you have to be brutally honest. It is only by admitting and realizing where you are, that you can really make changes. I think as a Leadership group we did that hard work and imagined something different for ourselves. So... this year we have added layers of professional learning/leadership groups that will inform and lead different parts of our work. We will divide and conquer. There is an Administrative Council that includes the Principal, Standards Coach, Technologist, Media Specialist, Literacy Coach, Behavior Specialist, and Guidance Counselor. This group will be our Management Team which will be assisted by our long standing Shared Decision Making Team made up of Team Leaders selected by each grade level but the real work of moving student achievement ahead will be done by three Curriculum Councils - Literacy, Math and Science. Each of the three groups will have a grade level representative. Each group will meet once a month and then the entire Council will meet on the fourth week. This is vertical articulation by subject that has been missing in the past. The hope is that we can use our time wisely in addressing the specific needs and dreams of each curriculum group.

Will this new alignment work? Will it help us reach that last 5% of kids so that we can truly reach 100%? I don't know. We organized at the end of last year and then met for the first time today. These groups include many people who have served on the Leadership Team for years but also many new people who will have to find their confidence and their voice to make a difference but it builds layers of leadership opportunities for many of the teachers who are ready for that responsibility at our very large school.

That's what I love about the beginning of school - new plans, new ideas, new alignments. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I've got the music in me!

It's that last week before school starts - you know the one - you have those last doctors' appointments, get a new hair cut and a pedicure, go to the beach that one last time and generally think about how you want to change the way your room looks this year. For me, it's time to start tossing and turning at bedtime as I think about the new year. Although I hate giving up those last lazy days of summer, I begin to get excited thinking about a new year and a new group of kiddos. When I lay down to sleep my mind runs wild with all the possibilities and I have to get up and write lists of things I don't want to forget.

Our theme at Chets Creek this year is "Orchestrating a Symphony of Student Success," so it will be singing and dancing each day! Each grade level has been given a different genre of music and kindergarten will be all country, so I guess I'll be boot scootin' boogyin' through the year. On the first day, each grade level and team presents a "skit" which can be just about anything so the Office Team has been practicing all week - which is certainly taking me to places I've never been before! I can't tell you what we will be doing because it is "TOP SECRET," so you'll have to tune in next Monday for the big reveal!

But... today, I received my "Welcome Back" letter from the Principal - you know the one - where the principal welcomes you back to the new school year, tells you what time to report for the first official back-to-school day, tells you they hope you had a good summer and gives you the new roster so you can speculate about all the changes! Well this year, instead of a letter, we received an e-mail with a new wiki that will house all of our resources for the year. How COOL is that! It's a private wiki only open to the faculty and staff because it has faculty phone numbers and addresses, but also has the Resource schedule, lunch schedule, Calendars, faculty and staff birthdays, the Handbook, Climate and FAME Surveys, Emergency Plans, maps of the school and even all those back-to-school forms! How convenient will it be to just pull up the wiki and copy a new form when you need it for the child that's lost it for the fourth time instead of sending to the Office to get one! And of course, mistakes can be corrected right then before the form goes out again. This wiki includes the entire first day back to school information! This use of technology will allow us to spend the day playing and enjoying the time back together, getting really excited about the new year... instead of listening dryly to the packet being read to us for the first day! We'll have time to sing and dance, think, brainstorm and... dream!

This video  is just a little hint of why I am so excited.