Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thankful Traditions

As I watched the colorful kindergartners dressed in Native American attire parade into Pow Wow with their tribes, I was overwhelmed with the rainbow of colors, happy faces and memories.   One of the things I have always loved about the Creek is the way tradition and family weave into the tapestry of a Creeker's life.
Chief Spotted Horse and Chief Jumping Frog
As I looked to the podium, there stood JJ Brown in her first year as our Chets Creek Vice Principal.  She has been a longtime kindergarten teacher at the Creek, so she has led many of her own tribes through the Pow Wow tradition and both of her own older girls. Today, however, she looked at Pow Wow through new eyes, those of an administrator, and took her place beside Chief Jumping Frog (Principal Susan Phillips) as Chief Spotted Horse.  JJ's mom, Beverly Jackson, retired teacher and guidance counselor stood quietly behind JJ.  Beverly was just named Chets Creek's Senior Volunteer of the Year. Not surprising, she worked with the Resource teachers today to provide one of the storytelling stations after the big Pow Wow event. When you work at Chets Creek, it's literally all about family and it's not unusual for generations of families to be involved.

Beverly Jackson, JJ's mom and CC Volunteer of the Year
Susan Phillips, Tanner Stahlman,  JJ Brown
Another example of continued family commitment was evident with the Stahlman family. Dr. Terri Stahlman, the founding principal of Chets, known as Chief Soaring Eagle to kindergartners, presided over the inaugural Chets Creek Pow Wow. Before she left Chets Creek, her son, Tanner, entered kindergarten at the Creek, celebrating his first Pow Wow with his mom as  part of the mighty Nootka tribe.  Today, Tanner who is employed in our Extended Day program while he attends college, was in full Native American garb, ready to welcome families to this 17th annual Pow Wow.  Wonder if he was thinking what so many of us were thinking - from a tiny Nootka to a full fledged Chief right before our eyes!

Chip Boyd honoring his father
And still another emotional family connection... JB Boyd was a beloved volunteer at Chets Creek from the moment the doors opened.  He stayed on even after his children left elementary school, which is not unusual.  JB could do anything and for years he was here every day working with KK Cherney in the Media Center.  Three years ago he lost his fight for life, but his hand is on so many of the things that we love about Chets Creek.  When KK dreamed about a full sized tepee in the middle of our kindergarten playground to represent all of the different original native homes that we studied, JB sewed all the pieces and rigged a design to make it come to life.  Chris Phillips, husband of current Principal Susan Phillips, designed the metal piece that intertwines all the pieces of rope and canvas for erecting the tepee.  On the morning of Pow Wow each year the tepee goes up and then comes down at the end of the day.  What happens inside that tepee is sheer "KK" magic.  JB also played the part of Chief Chets Creek for many years dancing through the kindergarten tribes at the Pow Wow celebration.  Today, his very talented son, Chip Boyd,who  is a professional dancer, flew in so he could help erect the tepee in his Dad's memory and then donned his Daddy's Native American costume.  He followed in his father's footsteps as he danced the steps that his father had once danced through this new generation of kinders. Brought tears to the eyes of so many as they realized the significance and history of that dance and dancer.
Chip Boyd dances in the footprints of his father, JB Boyd.
This entire tradition of honoring First Americans at Thanksgiving is so full of history. At Chets Creek we have tried to look authentically at that history.  Although our presentation may not be perfect, our effort to honor those First Americans that first inhabited our land is heartfelt... as are the memories that we offer our children through this process.   May the traditions continue through the generations... with deep thanksgiving...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pow Wow Memories

Preschooler Courtney Timmons (Bogard)
My very first Pow Wow was with my daughter, Courtney, when she was a preschooler.  She and her sweet little friends sang songs around a paper campfire about "Indians" and prayed with thanksgiving for all their blessings. Parents were invited to join them for a feast that included a paper bag folded into the shape of a turkey.  When it was "carved," the children were delighted to see that it was stuffed with popcorn!

Preschoolers at Alimacni Elementary School

The very next year, in the inaugural year of Alimacani Elementary School, Courtney danced into the courtyard with her kindergarten tribe (led by Linda Zeiler) as  I led my own tribe of preschoolers to celebrate the first Alimacani Pow Wow. As I recall we honored Chief Alimacani at that celebration and each Pow Wow afterwards, as he had once walked on the very ground where the school and children  now stood.   I continued to celebrate Pow Wow with my preschoolers each year as Courtney marched through her years of elementary life.  She graduated to middle school and after a total of ten years, and ten memorable Pow Wows, I moved to Chets Creek... and so did the Pow Wow!

Pow Wow came to Chets Creek with that cute and perky Kindergarten Lead Teacher (surplussed from Alimacani to Chets Creek) Susan Phillips. Susan, Chief Jumping Frog (named after her collection of frogs during the Alimacani multi-track years when her kindergarten class "jumped" from class to class every three weeks!) now leads Chets Creek as its Principal. She brought Pow Wow with her to this new school of Creekers and thus began one of our most endearing traditions.

Chief Jumping Frog and Peaceful Waters
Of course, Creeker teachers weren't satisfied with the traditional generic Pow Wow and so at the insistence of a music teacher, Dan Smith, they began to research and develop more authentic tribes and attire, songs and dances.  In the midst of all that authenticity two of my favorite Native Americans emerged, my daughter-in-law and kindergarten teacher Randi Timmons of the Mighty Iroquois Nation and my sweet granddaughter, Kallyn, of the peaceful Lenape tribe. That's a very special memory!
Randi Timmons and Kallyn

Our beloved JB getting ready to raise the tepee.
What has evolved over the years is a crowning traditional event at Chets Creek that includes a study of traditional music and foods and even a tepee that rises like a phoenix on the eve of Pow Wow thanks to the genius of our beloved James Boyd and KK Cherney and all of her tribe of workers.  Each kinder tribe has the opportunity during the Pow Wow day to spend some time in the tepee with the master storyteller, Peaceful Waters (aka "Miss KK") as she weaves her story of the Three Sisters.  She then passes the "talking stick" and gives each child and adult the opportunity to tell the group why they are thankful.  There are always tears and it's usually an adult who is hit by the pure innocence and raw honesty of the children. One of the most special times for me is the opportunity at the end of the day for the Leadership Team to lay under the tepee and think about our own blessings - and they are many.
Leadership Team counting their blessings inside the tepee.
This year I will be watching Pow Wow with fifth graders who will have their own memories of being a kindergarten Native American to fill their minds as they hear the music and watch the excitement... and as they realize that this is the last Pow Wow that they will experience at Chets Creek.  Last year's K-1 class was my final year with a tribe of kindergarten First Americans - Wise Woman of the Mighty Iroquois Nation,
The Mighty Iroquois Nation
but the snapshots of Pow Wows will live with me forever in my memory.  And each year as we approach Thanksgiving, not only will I be counting my blessings but I will be thinking of the new crop of little kindergartners who will have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  After all that is what the Chets Creek experience is all about.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Board Walk

One of the well-organized boards that my group discussed
I have written about standard-based bulletin boards often at this site.  Over the summer I was most distressed when our Union negotiated that schools would no longer be required to do standard-based bulletin boards as a step toward paper-reduction.  I am thankful that as the year began our school's Shared Decision Making group voted to continue with the bulletin boards.  I have always thought that the boards are such a great opportunity for self-reflection, for looking at alignment and a way for teachers to look at student work, really reflecting on what the students did and how they did it.  It is a window into the instruction that is going on in the classroom.  How appropriate that our school would vote to continue a practice that is time-consuming but that they see value.

To honor that work and time they put into SBBB, teachers have often reflected that if they are going to put the work into the boards, they would like to know that someone is reading them and they would like some constructive feedback.  So... at Early Release this week, we did just that.  Our faculty went on a "board walk."  Teachers were assigned to a group of three and were given a list of three boards to visit in a certain order so groups were not on top of each other.  One teacher was assigned to capture the conversation on a chart that asked for comments/compliments, wonderings, and next steps.

As I joined my group (which was all teachers teaching different grade levels) I overheard several teachers in other groups wondering how their boards would be received by the group that was reviewing it. Hmmmm...  As we approached each board we looked for a title, standard, a description of the task, 3-4 pieces of student work and commentary on the student work.  Of course, many of the boards had extras such as pictures of the students whose work was displayed, photos of other students in the classroom involved in the same work, artwork in borders and surrounding the boards, rubrics, etc.

One of the things that hit me immediately is how a well organized board is so much easier to read and understand.  Seems obvious, I guess, but sometimes it was hard to see which commentary went with which piece of student work or it was hard to understand the task because the teacher included so much that it was hard to really focus on the point of the board.  I also noticed that the format of the commentary made a difference too.  Bulleted commentary was especially easy to read or commentary that was in a t-chart format with the standard on the left and an explanation of how the student's work met the standard on the right.  This walk certainly gave me a unique view of the boards and set me thinking about how to design a really significant board.

The charts of collegial feedback that we filled out went to the Principal to review.  The names of the teachers that reviewed the board were not included.  The paper will go to the teachers who completed the boards.  Wonder how the feedback will be received...

This was really a very stress-free and constructive way to look deeper into bulletin boards that teach. I hope that we will do this again, maybe with different group configurations such as looking at the grade above with your grade level or looking at one board in each grade level, k-1-2-3-4-5 all in the same subject.  Or maybe the Academic Councils could choose some of the best boards in the building and have the teacher stand with the board and explain her thinking to groups of colleagues...  Oh, the possibilities are endless!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Study: A Guide to the Reading Workshop, Chapter 1

For those that want to follow along with our current book study, but are not able to attend...

A Guide to the Reading Workshop: Primary Grades by Lucy Calkins

What are the BIG ideas in Chapter 1: First Things First?
“You cannot create what you cannot imagine.”
  • Too many children are not learning to love to read. The longer kids stay in school, the less they like to read!

  • What are the conditions that make reading bad for you?  What makes reading good?  It's the same for kids!
  • Large, for-profit companies with core reading programs are not the answer.  We have 50 years of research saying packaged programs do NOT work.
  • The most important thing we can do to lift student achievement is to support the professional development and retention of good teachers.
  • Students need to spend most of their time reading in books that are just right.  We will not close the reading gap by having students read grade level text that is beyond their reach.
  • We must model the professional learning as adults that we want in our classrooms.
Next assignment for 11-19-15: Chapter 2 - Follow the rest of this book study on Live from the Creek, Chets Creek's professional development blog.  A synopsis of each chapter will be posted that reflects the text and the conversation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Retirement "Party"

To the children and families, faculty and staff of the Greatest School on Earth,
So many folks recently have asked me about plans for my retirement “party,” so I thought it might be better to share in one simple response.  For those of you that may be new, and anyone that could possibly not know, I will be retiring on January 29, 2016 after 40 years of teaching.  I guess in so many ways that is a lot to celebrate. Hard to believe it's been 40 years!  I certainly need to celebrate how fortunate I have been to love my job all these years!  They say it’s not work when you live your passion and that certainly has been my story. I have looked forward to getting up and coming to school almost every single day from my first day as a self-contained Special Education teacher in a little school in my hometown of Florence, SC,  to my ten years at Alimacani with my daughter in tow, to these “golden” years at Chets Creek.

My story has been like a lot of  teachers who spend their entire adult years in a classroom, but unlike most teachers, I had the amazing opportunity to represent teachers in Florida for an entire year.  During that year I was celebrated in ways that few teachers get to experience.  Many of you were with me the night Marvine almost fell out of the balcony in excitement when I was named Duval’s Teacher of the Year.  Some of you were there for the state announcement, and then so many of you came to celebrate my homecoming that first time I returned to Chets –you sent a limo as I recall!  You made me feel like a celebrity – a “queen!”  So many of you sent me cards and e-mails and notes -  throughout that entire year!  You even followed my daily journeys with a map in the school office. It wasn’t just you, but so many teachers who had been administrators, mentors and friends from other schools throughout my entire career reached out during that year. I even heard from a teacher who taught me when I was a student!   I think I heard from every child and family that year that I had ever taught and was often left in tears when a grown man or women remembered me as their teacher.  You have celebrated me in pictures, slide shows, videos… and skits!  I have no secrets (at least not anymore!) When I came home after that year, the celebrations continued.  You celebrated when I turned 60 (although I’m still not sure why we celebrated that!)  You celebrated with me as each of my children married and when I became a grandmother.  You too often have honored me, deserving or not,  with awards at the end of the year.  And… I guess when it’s all said and done… I have enjoyed it all.  Who wouldn’t?

But now…  I am coming to the end.  I really don’t need a “party” to remind me of the deep friendships that I have made on this journey or of those of you who have transformed my life.  I will hold those memories in my heart always and forever.   I don’t even need the children to tell me if I have made a difference, because  I have always known that children who have entered my room have come by Divine appointment.  Originally I was egotistical enough to think they came because there was something that I was supposed to teach them, but I soon realized that they came all too often because of what they were supposed to teach me!  Besides, I have been so fortunate, from the very beginning, that I have always known that this was God’s plan for me, so it has never been my glory to claim.  

So... it has become the tradition at Chets,  that as teachers retire, they are honored with a simple (I said simple, KK!) breakfast on the morning of their retirement.  So it should be with me. I hope you will join me for a few moments to laugh and reflect and reminisce.  Nothing fancy – nothing stressful – just joyful fellowship.    And then as the day closes, “clap me out” as you have so many other teachers and students who have left through these doors… with memories to last a lifetime and love overflowing…  and knowing that as this chapter closes, another joyful chapter will begin…  for this book is not yet complete…

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Revisiting Teacher Evaluations

I have been thinking for a long time about teacher evaluations and how effective they are - especially for a very seasoned teacher.  Each year the experienced teacher prepares for both a formal and informal evaluation - not so very time consuming for the teacher, since she should mostly be doing what she normally does, but at least a few hours of extra work for the administrator.  To me, it  seems more like jumping through hoops.  So... I have been thinking about how seasoned teachers could be evaluated in a more effective way.

It seems to me that once an experienced teacher has reached a level of  "highly performing/ proficient," for maybe three years in a row, that the administrator might be wasting her time in evaluating that teacher every single year.  The administrator's time might be better spent with less seasoned teachers.  That's not to say that an experienced teacher no longer has anything to learn, but my experience has been that when a teacher reaches that point of "master teacher" that she basically is designing her own professional development.  She has figured out what she needs and goes about finding her own way through on-line resources, books, etc. to meet her need.  Administrators find it time consuming because they want the evaluation to reflect all that they think that teacher has become. Of course, teachers never  reach a point where they have nothing more to learn or a time when they should never be evaluated again, but maybe the administrator only needs to see the teacher once every three years - or five years.  Maybe instead of the administrator seeing the teacher every year, the annual evaluation could include a reflection by the seasoned teacher of what she has learned since the last evaluation, how her teaching has changed, and what she plans for the following year.

In the meantime, what could be beneficial to the seasoned teacher to help her continue to improve her practice?  Seasoned teachers still need feedback, but how could a seasoned teacher get the feedback in another way?  I would propose that master teachers in this category do a demo teach each year instead of an administrator observation.  She would teach a lesson for a group of her colleagues that would include all the preparation materials that she would gather for an administrator's evaluation and a debrief with the group.   The seasoned teacher would have the opportunity to explain her thinking and why she made the decisions that she did during the lesson, how she will evaluate the effectiveness of the lesson, etc., using a format similar to National Boards for reflecting on a lesson.  Observers would have the time to make noticings of positive things they saw and to ask questions about things that they still wonder about.  Since teachers at this level are usually providing their own self-reflection for their own growth, I think going through this process would be much more valuable.  This seems like a win-win all the way around. The teacher goes through her own growth cycle.  The observers see a master teacher and have the opportunity to questions and reflect, and the administrator is able to spend her time with teachers in her building that are needier of her supervision.

Anybody else interested in a change?.