Monday, April 26, 2010

3rd Nine Weeks Awards

I was in Haley Alvarado's Kindergarten class this morning as children and their parents arrived for the 3rd Nine Weeks Awards Ceremony. It's hard to believe that we are actually in the last nine weeks of Kindergarten! Haley has the children sitting facing their families so that they can see the pride in their families' faces. There are certificates for Perfect Attendance (Haley actually had perfect attendance from kindergarten- 12th grade!), All E's in academics, ribbons for Great Citizenship, certificates for the number of books read, etc. but in Haley's class every child gets an award. Even the newcomers get a "Welcome to Chets Creek" certificate so they don't feel left out! The awards given at the end of the ceremony are the "Soaring Eagle Awards" which are eagle pins that can be attached to the Chets Creek denim ball cap (worn on Fridays). These coveted awards go to students for something special. It might be great improvement, being a really good friend, achieving something special, etc., but it is always the high point of the ceremony. This nine weeks was no exception. Parents and children completed the ceremony feeling good. The children and parents have worked very hard this nine weeks with just one more session to go, so they should leave feeling good. I realized that the only person in the class that left without an award was the teacher but I imagine the smiles and hugs were reward enough!

Let Us Play!

This was a busy weekend at the Creek! On Saturday the PE Department sponsored over 100 Chets Creek children who took part in the Let Us Play 2K Run that was held at the Jaguar's Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. Over 2000 children from all over the county participated in three runs inside and outside the Stadium that were grouped by age. What makes this tenth annual event special for Chets Creek is that the school sponsored a bus to pick up students that they felt might not be able to attend otherwise. Many of the children met the coaches at the Stadium with their parents but 20 children were able to attend because the PE coaches, a handful of teachers and a committed Principal believed that all of the children of Chets Creek deserved the opportunity to participate.

During a time when education seems too much about testing, it was so reassuring to sit in Jacksonville's Municipal Stadium in the bright morning sun with a light breeze and watch thousands of children representing schools from all over Jacksonville. This event was appropriately named "Let us play." The message was even larger than the group!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Earth Day!

Not all teachers celebrate Earth Day which really is a shame. After spending Earth Day with Haley Alvarado's kindergarten and watching how excited the children were, I was asking why we couldn't incorporate Earth Day into our curriculum every year, so that every child had an opportunity to learn how to protect our Earth!

Haley's kiddos came dressed in recyclable materials. They were so excited to show off their designs! Their creativity was staggering! From recycling fairies to superheroes, the children certainly got the message. They started the morning with a book about recycling that would be just part of a larger collection of books on the topic that would be read during the day. Then it was outside for a
recycling relay. Haley dumped a large pile of "clean" trash (is there any such thing?) and the children formed two teams. The first person in each line found something in the pile that was recyclable, ran to put it in the recycling bin after explaining to an adult what it was made of and then back to the next person in line. The kids learned so much including looking for the recycling sign!

Back inside, the children wrote letters to Mother Earth. There assignment was to let Mother Earth know what they were going to do to make a difference. Some of the children took this very seriously and came in this morning telling us what they were going to be doing at home to help the Earth... and isn't that what this is all about? Jack's letter is a great example of what the children wrote.

April 22, 2010

Dear Earth,
I am going to be a
planet protector. I will
recycle and reuse things
and stop cutting trees.
I will plant more trees
and flowers and won't
throw stuff away
when it will be in
there for 800 years.

In the afternoon the children painted their balloon-shaped Earths as they chatted about all the ways they were going to protect their precious Earth. Their conversation was amazing. They were even mad that other people who didn'tunderstand and weren't doing more. They pledged to become planet protectors. It was obvious that they understood what the day was all about and what their teacher was so passionately trying to teach them! A seed was planted today. May it be watered and fertilized for many years to come.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Principal and the Politician

This has been a busy week! Yesterday we had a Principal-for-the-Day! We were fortunate to host Neptune Beach Mayor Frank Lee. Also spending a day with us shadowing our principal was Audrey Ferrell, an Assistant Principal in the Leadership Academy who is visiting our school and other schools as part of her quest to eventually lead her own school. On Monday and Tuesday we hosted 12 teachers and administrators from Arkansas. It's not at all unusual for us to have visitors in the building. I think from Chets Creek's inception our founding Principal, Dr. Terri Stahlman, imprinted on our hearts that it was our obligation to share what we were learning. She believed "to whom much is given, much is expected," and we have taken that directive to heart for these many years. It's not always easy. Hosting visitors can be a challenge. It often consumes Standard Coach Suzanne's Shall's entire day which means something in our own school doesn't get done, but it is our way of taking the time and being committed to the larger profession- our way of giving back and of being thankful for all we have been given. We give back in other ways - by sharing our work with anyone that asks in both written and digital form, by sharing our assessments and the many lessons we write, by doing demo lessons for anyone that asks, by taping many lessons and putting them on the Ning, by writing blogs and articles about our work... We are committed to being transparent. In the scheme of things, it may very well be the most important thing that we do, but there are push backs. Because teachers historically are more competitive than collaborative, I think they sometimes doubt our motives. More than once our own teachers have been verbally attacked at county in-services where they hear other teachers in the room say, often under their breath, but sometimes loud and clear, "I am sick of Chets Creek." Maybe I understand that at some level but it doesn't stop my belief that there are others who really want to be part of our international collaboration.

In conversation with Mr. Lee yesterday, who is also running for the School Board in our area, we were able to share some of our thoughts about education's needs and challenges. One of things that I realized during my year as state Teacher of the Year is that education is political. Like it or not, we must become advocates for our children. We have an obligation to educate our stakeholders because we are the ones who work in the trenches everyday and have the real scoop. I admire someone like Mr. Lee who comes to see for himself. I enjoyed hearing his views from a politician's point of view. We have much to learn from the political arena if we are to make the gains in student achievement that we all want. Mr. Lee would like to rotate his office among school sites if he is elected! (sort of reminds me of Undercover Boss! - Imagine what he could learn!) I admire our Principal, Susan Phillips, for taking a day out of her busy schedule to help an elected official understand our priorities and challenges. I admire Suzanne Shall for spending countless hours with visitors and for Susan Phillips for believing that she should! Understand that we get nothing from the hours and hours that we accommodate visitors except to take time away from the needs at our own school. We don't have a grant or anything else that provides extra money or time or personnel. What we do have is a mission. For me, that mission is crystal clear...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

From Inclusion to RtI

I have been a Special Education teacher for my entire career. I have seen all kinds of models come and go in popularity. They all have their great hope and challenges. When I first started teaching in 1970, all Special Education students were slowly moved to self-contained classes. When the efficacy studies showed that students did better socially in those classrooms but didn't do as well academically, Resource Rooms became the new fad where Special Education students were pulled out for part of the day for some of their academic work and remained in their general education class for the rest of their day. After years of that model the efficacy studies once again showed that the Special Education students didn't fair well because their day was too chopped up with little coordination between what was going on in the Resource Room and what was going on in the general education classroom. As a result the students were often just confused. Then inclusion swooped in with its push-in programs. We left kids in the classroom and the Special Education teacher worked with struggling students in their classroom. The idea is that you offer a "continuum." In other words you offer all of these options, but in most schools - even our best schools - that is more dream than reality.

Recently in a conversation with an inclusion teacher, we decided that this analogy best describes what it is like to be the general education teacher in an inclusion class. You come upon a lake and you see three boats. In one boat all of the children have paddles and they are all paddling in different directions, making no progress. In another boat there are enough paddles in the bottom of the boat but the children are all looking around trying to decide what to do. They don't know what the paddles do or how to use them to move forward. The last boat is empty, but around the boat, children are drowning. The first boat represents those students that are at the highest level in your class who all think they know what to do, but without a teacher to help direct the course, they will continue to go in circles or to not move at all. The middle boat represents the normally developing children who have all the tools but just don't know how to use them without a teacher to develop their skills. The empty boat represents the students that are struggling - the ones who are drowning without your help. As you arrive on the scene, who do you help? On your worst day, that is the way teaching feels, as if you can't possible get to every student and that without your guidance and intervention some students will not make it. If there are too many children drowning in your class, you can only save those that are about to go under and you wonder if you will ever have time to guide the rest to safety. It's a scenario that keeps me awake at night.

In the ideal world there is rescue and balance so that while one person is saving those that are drowning, another is practicing with those who don't know how to paddle and still another drops in to get all those that are paddling rowing in the same direction, but that is so much easier said than done. The only people who say that can be done easily or effortlessly are the ones designing the programs, not the ones living it. On the best of days, there are enough hands to touch every single child and you leave at the end of the day with a smile on your face and a skip in your step. Doesn't every single child deserve an education like that? It's just a matter of figuring out how to make that happen... Is RtI the next great model? Will it be the answer we've searched for all these many years? Will it provide the life preservers and compass that we are looking for?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Birthday Wishes for Kate

Last night I attended a very special birthday party. Lansing Roy turned 70 and his granddaughter Kate turned 1! My connection to the party was the mom in the middle. Elizabeth Roy Conte and I taught together at Chets Creek for several years. In fact, I was her Special Education teacher during the Teacher of the Year selections. She is a lot of the reason that I was selected because I was able to use the strong rituals and routines that she had established in her room when I taught demo lessons in her class. It was her lovely, organized room that visitors saw when they watched me teach and best of all, Elizabeth was the lead cheerleader. She is a passionate, committed teacher in her own right who was very often chosen to teach demo lessons because of her expertise and natural ability. In fact, she taught our very first videostream to the Schultz Center. She is a risk taker and an accomplished National Board Certified teacher. I have been so fortunate to share time with her over the years.

Like so many of her young teacher friends at Chets, Elizabeth has taught her entire career at the Creek. She came as a young single teacher and then married and had two children. We watched and celebrated each of those landmarks. This young group of teacher friends have shared many things - pregnancy thrills and challenges, suggestions for soothing colicky babies, what to do about children's asthma and allergies, birthday parties... They have met as a mommy play group since the first babies were born, even through the summer. Now they are working on Round Two babies. Last year Elizabeth welcomed her second child and first daughter, Baby Kate. Almost immediately, there was a problem and Kate was eventually diagnosed with Myotonic Dystrophy. Through the diagnosis of this genetic disorder, it was also discovered that the gene is carried by both Elizabeth and her father. Through their heartache and pain, Elizabeth and her husband Dave searched for answers. Last night their strong families and many friends came together to celebrate the answer- a cure through money for research.
Many of Elizabeth's Chets Creek family were there - young teachers with their husbands, babies, toddlers and preschoolers in tow along with Principal Susan Phillips. As we celebrated, we cried, we laughed and we joined in the family's hope for a cure! As I watched our little group of young moms and dads with their precious children, it was a looking glass into the future of Chets Creek. Some of these moms have stepped out of the teaching force to be stay-at-home moms. Some have returned to teach part-time. Others have never left teaching and one even came with a new foster child last night but the one thing they all have in common is that they have a heart for children and they all want their own children at a school like Chets Creek when the time comes. They know the school from the inside out and even with its flaws, they want their children to have the opportunities that are offered there. I think it is these strong, deep relationships that these teachers have with each other that are characteristic of a high performing school. It is just so reaffirming to me as I watch these moms rally around Elizabeth and her hope for the future because what we want for Kate is what we want for each of our little ones - as her mother said through her tears last night, "we want her to dance" - to learn and to find meaning and happiness. Happy Birthday, little Kate! May we be there for all of your birthdays... as you celebrate the cure!

Friday, April 16, 2010

RtI and Interventions

We have been doing a school wide book study for the past three Early Release days on Richard Allington's What Really Matters in Response to Intervention. We are broken into about 12 small groups of 6-8 teachers. The groups are vertical with hopes of having many different views within each group. Each group has a facilitator. Nina Thomas, one of the facilitators established a wiki where each group could post some of their thoughts. Yesterday after our last book talk, the groups met together to share with each other 3-5 of the things that they thought should be considerations for next year. I am so proud of the thinking that has been going on in our building - the professional conversation in the hallways. I'm glad to be at a school where a Principal is not threatened by such a process but opens the doors for free thinking and creative solutions. While many schools are attending in-services to try to figure out how to get their faculties to "buy-in" to RtI, our school "bought in" a long time ago. We have had our own "intervention team" since the school was established, long before it was mandated. Although the paperwork is different now, the intent - of making a difference for our struggling readers - has always been the same. The law has made it all more complex and difficult to grasp but at the heart is the hope that we can provide the best possible reading program in our Workshop model to reach the most students and then provide specific intensive interventions for any that we miss. We are in solution mode at the Creek! As facilitators shared today there was a lot of thinking "outside of the box" such as
  • trying to get a late bus to run to our community of most at-risk students so that we can tutor them after school
  • taking all of the Science and Social Studies books in the building and reallocating them so that every grade level has books for EVERY reader on their level on the content topics that are covered on their grade level
  • a request for Math/Science teachers to learn non-fiction reading strategies while the Reading teachers requested the Science topics so that they can incorporate that content into their informational writing
  • a resource in addition to Music, Art and PE that would include Readers Theatre and Drama that could reinforce fluency
The list goes on and on with creative ideas and solutions. Next Wednesday the Admin Leadership Team will take that list that has been added to the wiki and go through every single suggestion. Many of the suggestions don't cost a dime! They just mean reallocating people or resources. Many of the ideas really ARE possible.

I guess this is what I love most about Chets Creek. We ARE going to make a difference. Thank you Richard Allington for pushing our thinking and for giving us, in a short and sweet summary, the best research has to offer us right now. We plan to use that knowledge to teach more and more children to read - just watch!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

It's a Sign of the Times!

Often kindergartners' invented spelling cracks me up, but today I actually laughed out loud. I have one little kindergarten student who uses the computer for word processing instead of writing by hand because of some Occupational Therapy concerns. We have just started a unit on writing persuasive letters and the children were writing friends in the class to let them know their opinion about recycling and if they thought we should recycle or not. As I went around checking the letters that the children were writing, I couldn't help but stop by the computer and read Parker's letter - recycle spelled "re-si-cool" just like he sounded it out, but then I just couldn't stop laughing when I saw that he spelled we as "wii"! It really is a sign of the time!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Crab Shack is Open!

The Chets Creek Fish Mongers
are proud to announce
the annual opening of the Chets Creek Crab Shack
(aka Faculty Lounge – yes we do have one!)
on Wednesday, April 14 from 11: 00 – 2:00.

All Faculty and Staff
are invited to attend during their lunchtime
for some free fish, grits and fun!
Don’t forget the PRIZES!
Everyone goes fishing
and “reels” in a winner!
And there's plenty of FISHY FUN!

One of the things that makes the work easier is when FUN is built into the formula. That's one place that we have excelled at the Creek! We really do like each other (most of the time!) and often enjoy our off time together. Even so, it is important that the time that we spend together during the school day also offers time for fun and games. After we read the books Fish! and Fish! Sticks several years ago, the Principal opened up the Chets Creek Crab Shack for a one day annual fish fry modeled after Seattle's famous Pike Place Fish Market. Just like the Fish Market we strive for a place where you see energy, passion and a positive attitude every single day. We want to have that same connection to our work, to our peers and to our customers - our children and their families. Just like the Fish Market, we credit our joyous atmosphere and culture for our success. Each year we escape for those few minutes to the Chets Creek Crab Shack to enjoy grits, cole slaw and fresh fried fish with homemade desserts. It's just play and fun - with a gift for everyone! Ask Mrs. Mallon how she likes her new fish in a bowl or ask Mrs. Zawis how she likes her ipod nano? Or for a real treat ask Mrs. Ruark, a real Northern, if it's worth it to eat a bowl of grits for a chance to be Principal for a day while the principal teaches her class!! Fun and joyous adventure - such an important part of a high performing school!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


It's a BLACK day for Florida schools as we wrestle with the news that is coming out of our state capital each day. Rumors are flying and "doom and gloom" is spreading among teachers who hear the message as a lack of confidence in their abilities. As a teacher it seems that all of the woes of the world have been heaped onto our shoulders. In the worst case scenario it looks like pay will be mostly dependent on test scores. How sad is that? Can you imagine teaching with a goal of making sure that your kids do well on a test instead of a goal of teaching children to love reading and writing? That really makes my heart hurt! While test prep seems to be creeping over every inch of our state, it's a cancer that our school has really resisted. However, if teachers decide that the only way they can improve their pay is to drill and kill, then that's exactly what they will feel like they have will do. Can you blame them?

A letter from our Superintendent's Office today says that "In order to pay for this new requirement (which refers to the $42 million in unfunded mandates), districts will have to turn current salary scales upside-down, severely reducing salaries for experienced teachers." The bill also prohibits any compensation be given for experience or for advanced degrees! What does that say to how our state values its experienced teachers?

Also on the chopping block is teacher tenure. Now I have never been a proponent on tenure. I have long believed that it has protected some really bad teachers over time, but I'm also not a proponent of teachers having one year contracts with principals having the ability to fire without cause. Can't you just see how that might be abused?

It seems everything coming down right now is stuff that makes your blood boil. While I am sure there are arguments on both sides that are sane and well meaning (at least I hope there are!), the interpretations that we are now hearing are unreasonable and absurd. It's hard to find the truth and the real intention in all of the hysterics. In the meantime, how many hours of quality instruction are lost as teachers worry about their job, their security, their family's security? Is this really what we all signed up for? When we decided that we wanted to make a difference in the lives of children, did we think we would have to justify our very life's work and sacrifice our families? What do we say to our students when they tell us they want to be just like us - they want to be teachers? What a sad time to be an educator...

Just for the record, on April 15, 2010 Florida's Govenor Charlie Crist vetoed the education reform bill!! Hooray!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Lonely Firefly by Eric Carle and Josey!

The point of studying all of the works of a single author is to teach our children, even our youngest children, how to discuss an author's books. We want them to understand that you can usually predict what an author's book will be about- the style of the book, the illustrations (if the author is also the artist), the story line, information about the characters and setting, and many other things when you have read some of the author's book. Understanding some of the books helps you understand new books by the same author. Before they can talk - and write - across an author's books, however, our children have to be able to retell a single book. Below is a wonderful example of a child's retelling of a single Eric Carle book.

She begins with a lead that includes the name of the book and the author on her cover page. Then she starts with an engaging beginning - One night Eric Carle made a book called The Lonely Firefly. As she retells the book, she includes lots of details in her writing and in her illustrations. She even uses some of the story language directly from the book. She closes with her adorable opinion - I hope you like fireflies now. I do. Good by. This is an outstanding example of a kindergartner's ability to retell a story that she has heard read aloud in the classroom and probably can read herself!

The Very
Lonely Firefly
by Eric Carle
and Josey
One night Eric
Carle made a
book called
The Lonely Firely.
It starts like
this - One day a firefly was born.
So he went
looking for
fireflies so he
saw a light.
He flew to it. It
was a light ball.
Then he saw
another light.
He flew to it
but it was a
So he flew off.
Then he saw a
light. It was a

Then it saw
another light. It
was a lantern.
Then another -
they reflected
from eyes
like a dog,
like a cat
reflects from eyes,
like an owl
reflects from
Then the family
rode and they
found a beautiful
thing and the
firefly did too
and it was
beautiful too.

I hope you like
fireflies now. I do.