Friday, October 7, 2016

Reflecting on Week 3 of #IMMOOC - Trust, Passion, Vision

My brain has been working overtime this week. There was so much to think about in Episode 3 and Part II of the book. I loved hearing Kaleb Rashad's perspective on trust, relationships, and innovation. Thanks to Katie and George for planning and facilitating this episode. 

I am in an interesting position because I am a retired elementary principal. I enjoy being retired and have so much more time for reading, writing and connecting. But I miss being in a school. I miss the brilliance of teachers and children. I need to be part of the conversations that happen in classrooms. So I am hoping to broaden my experiences. Retirement is great but learning alongside students and teachers is even better.

I listened to episode #3 twice (OK, I admit. Maybe it was three times). My work in schools over the years was affirmed by the conversation but I was reminded how much I miss the face-to-face connections with educators and students. I have visited a friend's third grade classroom a few times since school started. I was there to share my writing notebook with them and talk to them about blogging. I value the time I can spend with young readers and writers. It was such a pleasure to talk with them about their own writing. Without that face-to-face interactions with learners my thoughts are missing the credibility of experiences in classrooms and schools.

I believe strongly in trustful relationships and understand the energy it can bring to a learning community. I was fortunate during my career as a principal to open a new elementary school. It was a dream of a lifetime. 

We began by bringing together a staff and exploring what we wanted for our new school. I shared my hopes and dreams for our school with honesty and passion. We needed to begin our journey with the power of honesty and conversations. As we approached the opening of our new school, we had many opportunities to be together and talk about our hopes and dreams. We wanted to bring together colleagues who believed in the unlimited potential of every child. We were beginning our journey together and were committed to creating new paths that would help our students explore the world with curiosity and wonder. I never insisted that our classrooms and our teaching were the same but I did insist on us coming together with a shared wisdom and a rigorous commitment to doing what was right for kids. There were lots of conversations that first year about learning, teaching, and building relationships. Our mission began to form within the conversations we had about what mattered.

The summer after our first year, we were ready to create a vision statement for our school. We planned a retreat for the staff so we could reflect on our first year together and breathe life into a vision for our school. Since we believed strongly that the voices of children must be heard in everything we did, we invited some 4th and 5th graders to join us for part of the retreat. We asked them to tell us what they liked best about our school and what they would want for our learning community. The conversation was inspiring.

As we captured our thoughts we began to co-create our vision. Some of the important considerations seemed to take shape:

     inspiring students to find a passion for learning

      honoring the unlimited potential of the whole child

     promoting leadership

     creating a safe and kind environment

     giving staff and students a voice

We crafted our vision that truly came together from our shared beliefs about schools, learning, teaching and leading. I am proud that I was able to be part of such an amazing experience.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What I Believe About Innovation and the Purpose of Education - #IMMOOC

I am participating in #IMMOOC with a group of educators who are reading and discussing the book, Innovators Mindset by George Couros. I am responding to this week's prompt for furthering the conversation.

What do you see as the purpose of education? Why might innovation be crucial in education?

I strongly believe that the purpose of education is to create learners who can navigate the world to satisfy their curiosities and passions. Certainly, our students need to develop the skills, content, behaviors and attitudes that help them grow toward independence. But the path our students take provides so many innovative opportunities to develop those on the way toward becoming a citizens of the world. 

When a child walks into a school, he comes with a unique set of talents, interests, learning styles, strengths, challenges, dreams and passions. If our goal is to innovate, we have to consider each child as a learner who is like no other. When that child engages in learning experiences they need to be specific and focused on what he needs to become more independent, to be able to see a world of possibilities, and to love learning. A complete profile of the child as a learner is what drives instruction and discovery. We can and should be innovative about the ways we engage in the learning lives of our students.

So many people assume that innovation is closely aligned with the technology and the digital devices we can offer our students. But I think it is so much more. Digital devices are changing classrooms but so are the teachers who plan thoughtful learning and teach brilliantly.

So here's what I believe about innovation:

     The learning environment can be an innovation in itself. Going beyond the desks-in-rows mentality. Designing a space with a wide range of resources where students are comfortable, challenged and curious. The appearance and functionality of classrooms is changing.

     Relationships are critical to innovation. We build trust through relationships. When teachers and students feel valued and trusted they take the risks that move them towards their goals. I consider the relationships among the adults in the school as important as those among and with our students. With strong relationships in place we can venture out from our comfort zones to be creative, curious, and passionate.

     Innovation can be represented by who is in charge of the learning. I think the biggest innovation we can make in our schools is to break down the heirarchy of learners. I have always hoped that schools could be places where there are no big people and no little people. Imagine that! A school where everyone is a learner who drives their own learning. I believe that everyone in school learns alongside each other. We are all on a journey.

      Lastly, I believe that innovation can be sustained when there is shared leadership among students, teachers and leaders. The voices of children and the voices of teachers need to be heard. The school environment can be led by the strong voices that are part of the fabric of the school.

Monday, September 19, 2016

What I am Reading - #IMWAYR

It's Monday What Are You Reading?

I love going to the library each week and heading for the section of new picture books. I find gems every time I go. Here are a few picture books I discovered last week.

Mom, Dad, Our Books, and Me
by Danielle Marcotte

This is a great book to share with young readers and may even spark a good conversation with older readers. The story is about a young boy who loves learning to read. He begins to notice that many people around him also read. What I love about the book is that he even notices that they read other things besides books. (A doctor who reads a thermometer. A tourist reads the time on his watch. The fisherman reads the sky.)

Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar
by Emily MacKenzie

While this book is not a new title (2015) it jumped off the shelf at me when I saw the cover. A Book Burglar! Of course, I wanted to read this book. This story is about Ralfy Rabbit who loves books so much that he tends to steal them from other readers. Of course, he gets caught but there is a solution to his hunger for books and reading.

Grow! Raise! Catch! How We Get Our Food
by Shelley Rotner

I grew up growing vegetables in our garden and catching fish from the lake. So this book fascinated me because so many children do not have those experiences. This is a wonderful nonfiction book about who the people are that produce the food we eat. The pages are packed with beautiful photographs of farmers, fisherman and the children and families who enjoy the food that comes from our gardens, orchards, fields and lakes. This is a great nonfiction book to add to classroom libraries.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Show Students That You Write - Thoughts for Literacy Leaders


Writing can be lonely. Sometimes it's hard for our students to sit there with a blank page and nothing to say (or at least they may think so). What we know is that the more volume and variety that we place in our reading notebooks, the more jumping off points we will find for future writing.

There have been many times when I read through the pages in my writing notebook - skimming, reading entries, noticing words and phrases, wondering what prompted me to write that day.  Often, an idea will pop out at me and demand to be written. We want our students to have a storehouse of ideas that they can draw upon throughout the year.

If we can get students to start the school year with volume and variety, they will be well on their way to a year of writing. Sometimes students will get an idea for a story and begin writing it in their notebook. Several weeks later, we will find them still spreading the story over pages and pages of their writing notebooks. This prevents them from exploring all types of writing in their notebooks. Lots of quick writes, lists, descriptions, memories, poems and sketches can fuel student writing as the year progresses. For now, writing a story for days and weeks limits the opportunities for our students to discover all kinds of writing.

Sharing My Notebook: 
A Conversation About Volume and Variety
I recently visited a class of third graders to share my writing notebook with them. I planned to help them understand the kinds of things they could write in their own notebooks by sharing the variety of entries in my own notebook. For some students, it might have been the first time they have been part of a writing workshop and the task is new to them. For some, it's just hard to think about what they want to write. Ideas from other writers can inspire them.

The children were gathered on the rug with their notebooks and pencils in hand. As I shared they were encouraged to jot down anything that might inspire an entry in their own notebooks. I categorized some of the kinds of writing I have done in my notebook. As I shared, several students offered comments about connections they had made with my writing. Some jotted a few words into their notebooks to inspire their own writing. 

These are the categories I shared:


Lists are great for writers. A quick list jotted in a writer's notebook can be a source of ideas for future writing. For students who struggle with a blank page, writing a list is something that comes easily. Later, we can encourage students to go back to those lists for pebbles of inspiration.

I shared these lists from my notebook with the class:

     * thoughts about the cottage my grandparents had when I was young
     * questions about my time at the cottage that my family might help me remember
     * celebrations - things worth celebrating when I was feeling grateful
     * things about my dad - my attempt to make a list of all the things I loved, 
        remembered, appreciated, and admired about my dad.  

Memories, Small Moments and Descriptions:

Sometimes writers find themselves writing about memories or small moments in their lives. We call on our senses to bring this kind of writing to life. We hope that children will attempt this kind of entry in their notebooks. For some students, it is a struggle to tighten the focus of their writing and zone in on a small moment or a description that has depth. I hoped that by sharing some of these entries students students would give this kind of writing a try.

I shared these entries from my notebook with the class:

          * Thanksgiving with my family (using senses to describe)
          * A memory that took on the shape of a poem
          * A captured moment when a deer paused alongside the road
          * A quiet morning reflection
          * My thoughts about the homeless on a cold, bitter morning
          * The beautifully tinted morning sky on the way to school
          * A trip to New York City


Collections of Quotes, Notes 
and Things to Remember:

I am a collector. Many people are. I was hoping that if I shared what kinds of thoughts I collect in my notebook, students would be inspired to do the same. I shared these entries from my notebook with the class:

          * Notes from a book I was reading
          * A piece I saved from the newspaper (taped in piece)
          * Fascinating words, where I heard them, what they mean
          * Collections of quotes about writing 
             (my own and from other writers)
          * A pressed flower taped into my notebook

Writing and Sharing

After our conversation, the students settled around the classroom in comfortable spots to write. I watched as some children immediately got comfortable and focused on their writing. Some of them had that vacant look on their faces as they stared at the blank page. I knew I needed to chat with some of them to see if I could just help them get started. I moved around the classroom to talk quietly with these young writers. I chatted with students who were continuing a piece of writing they had started the day before (a story about an ice skating competition). I visited with some students who quickly started a piece inspired by something I shared with them (a piece about the animals seen in the backyard, a trip to Alaska). I was delighted to find some very creative and humorous pieces like that of a student who was writing about why he hates to be the youngest one in his family. But not all conferences are easy. I scooted down next to those reluctant to write and helped them to brainstorm some possibilities hoping they would be confident enough to start something - anything.

As the writing workshop came to an end, the students gathered in a circle in the meeting area. When I asked who would like to share their writing, several hands went up. Some students were inspired to start new entries. Some students had jotted down ideas they might use on another day. Hopefully, they understand that volume and variety will fuel their writing possibilities throughout the year. 
As adults (teachers, literacy leaders, parents) it's important for us to show students that we write. And at this time of the year, we have the opportunity to show them the variety of writing we do.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

10 Years of Gratitude and a Full Heart

Last week, I attended the Glacier Ridge 10th Anniversary Celebration. It's hard to believe that it was that long ago when we started our dream of opening a new elementary school. As principal, it was an opportunity of a lifetime. I witnessed what happens when people work together toward a vision of what is right for children.

On the day of the 10th Anniversary Celebration, I parked my car and walked to the school entrance. I paused to remember our hopes and dreams for this school. 

             We wanted others to believe that we could build a school 
             that was a great place to learn.

             We hoped we would create a school where every 
             decision would be founded on what was right for children.

             We were commited to bringing together a staff that would
             collaborate and keep children foremost in their planning 
             and teaching.

             We wanted to gather dedicated and supportive parents who 
             cared so much about their children's learning.

             We wanted children to have a voice and provide them with 
             opportunities to take on leadership roles and help make 
             decisions about their school.

I retired from the principalship three years ago knowing we had tried our best. The teaching was brilliant. The learning was thoughtful. And the families gave us endless support. Student leadership was strong. Together we had made an impact on the learning community. It was a special time for all of us. I knew they would continue the important work of sustaining a school community that was best for children.

I was so appreciative that I was asked to come back for the 10th Anniversary Celebration. I knew I would see some changes. So much can change in three years. There were several new teachers on the staff. A new playground structure was added to the playground. Four new beautiful classrooms were added to the school building to help with the growing enrollment. The artwork on the walls in the hallway and the shared spaces had changed a bit but all of them represented the creativity we hoped would flourish. Children who had attended the school those first few years we were open had returned for the celebration so much taller and wiser and ready to take on the world. Parents came back to say hello and there were plenty of hugs all around.

But there was so much of the familiar at the celebration. Several of the original staff were part of the planning and facilitating the celebration. I wouldn't expect anything less. There was always a let's-pitch-in attitude among the teachers and staff. It was great to see them again. Before the celebration began, I saw them bustling around, as usual, getting things ready and working together. I was able to peek into a few classrooms to visit with some of the staff, and it was evident how much their classrooms represented their beliefs about learning and teaching. Classrooms were learning environments dedicated to helping children be successful.

It was in the faces and voices of the children where I recognized those initial intentions we had so long ago. They were laughing and enjoying every minute of being part of the school community. The children had been part of the research for choosing the new playground structure. When they cut the ribbon and ran toward the new playground structure they must have felt an ownership that comes from being part of something bigger than themselves. Their voices were being heard.

During the program presentations, I listened to the voice of the current principal as he read the vision statement we had written for our school so many years ago. It still is a part of the fabric of this school. When it was my turn to say a few words, I looked into the audience, and I saw the faces of parents and children who invest in this learning community in so many ways. The school is a shared community of people who believe in thoughtful learning.

As I walked back to my car to leave that day, I felt such a full heart. The spirit and commitment of staff, students and parents is strong.

Carry on, GRE friends. Glacier Ridge Elementary is a great place to learn!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

My Top 10 Picture Books for Literacy Leaders to Read to Children and Staff

Picture Book 10 for 10 is a Google Community of educators who share their favorite picture books. It was started by Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek. Consider joining the fun. Directions for participating can be found at Cathy Mere's blog, Reflect and Refine. ( You can also follow along at #pb10for10.

Picture books can bring us the best messages to share with staff and children. Thanks to the many talented authors who bring us wise and beautiful words to share with others. There's nothing better than children gathered 
around a book that brings them giggles and laughter. There is no better mentor text than a picture book filled with beautiful and carefully chosen words. There's no better way to realize just how human we all are than sitting down with a book that touches our heart.

My Picture Book 10 for 10 is fueled by my love for the written word and my appreciation for the children's book authors and illustrators who bring us beauty on the pages of a picture book. So many picture books inspire us to sit along side someone, lovingly turn the pages, and talk about the fabric of life woven together in a blanket of words and pictures.

It is so important to share picture books at any age. Primary children thrive on them. Children in middle grades learn about how language and storytelling come together and even adults can learn from the themes that are woven thought a picture book. My 10 for 10 post was inspired by Matt Renwick who recently posted in the Nerdy Book Club about the Top 10 Books for Principals to Read Aloud at Staff Meetings. ( It was also inspired by Mr. Schu at the Scholastic Reading Summit in July who said "Every faculty meeting should start with a book talk."

I believe that it is so important for principals and literacy leaders to know picture books well. What a pleasure it is to leave the library each week with a stack of picture books in hand. The fun begins when I go into classrooms or a meeting and read. These are the books that are high on my list this week. The grandest pleasure is knowing that there are always shelves of new picture books waiting for me at the library. 

Top 10 Books for Literacy Leaders
to Read to Children and Staff

I Wonder: Celebrating Daddies Doing Work by Doyin Richards

Daddies are so cool and they are all different! 
This book is about all the wonderful things that dads do with their children. The author, Doyin Richards, is on a mission to celebrate "how fatherhood is the coolest and most rewarding gig a man will every have in his lifetime." I love the diversity of dads pictured in this book. It is surely a book that children and families will love.


Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube

You can conquer your fears.
This story is about Hannah who is afraid of the dog that greets the children on the school bus each day. But Hannah is afraid of dogs. Then one day Sugar can not be found and Hannah helps search for the missing dog. Readers will discover if she is able to conquer her fear of dogs. This is a great story to share with anyone because we all have fears that can be conquered.  

Willow's Smile by Lana Button

Just be yourself.
Many of our children will be lining up for school pictures this fall. This is the story of Willow who has a difficult time smiling on pictue day. When she has a chance to help the photographer, Willow realizes that her friends all have unique looks of their own. And when it's time for Willow's picture to be taken, she knows that she just need to be herself. This is a great book to share in the fall when Picture Day is right around the corner.
The Little Tree That Would Not Share by Nicoletta Cost

Share and be kind. 

A tree planted in the city grew beautiful green leaves in the spring. But throughout the summer when the butterflies, birds and other animals tried to get near the tree, the tree tells them to go away. When fall arrives the tree notices that his leaves are turning colors and falling to the ground. He regrets being mean to his friends. A crow comes along and explains the seasons and the tree promises to be nicer to his friends as spring arrives. This is a light-hearted story about sharing and being kind to others.

What Do You Do With a Problem by Kobi Yamada

Have the courage to face your problems.
This book was written by the same author who wrote What Do You Do With An Idea. The boy in the story avoids a persistent problem that gets bigger as the story moves along. The boy finally gets enough courage to face the problem and it turns out that the problem is different than he thought. This story reaches out to anyone who has ever faced a problem. It inspires those who read it and would spark a great conversation with children and adults.

Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre
Water (and nature) can be beautiful.
This book reminds me of a soft and gentle summer rain. In beautiful photos and sparse words, the reader experiences the refreshing feeling that comes after a shower. This nonfiction book is an exploration of raindrops and the water cycle. It is a close discovery of how water is a natural part of our world. I love the photography and the carefully chosen words in this book and think that children and adult will too.                                                                       

I'll Catch You If You Fall by Mark Sperring
Someone is keeping us safe.
I love this reassuring story about knowing there is always someone near to keep us safe.
On a journey the boy's mother and a boat captain surround the boy with reassurance that they will keep him safe. As they return home, the star asks, "Who will keep me safe?" And the little boy tells the star that he will catch him if he falls. In this simple but elegant story we realize that all of us want to know that someone is keeping us safe. It's a lovely story that

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

Look for the beauty in our world.
On a bus ride across town, CJ asks his grandma questions about their lives and their
neighborhood. Grandma always points out the beauty and goodness of things as she answers him. CJ and Grandma share a heart-felt perspective on the world.

... and some older titles I treasure...

The Quiltmakers Gift by Jeff Brumbeau

 Celebrate the joy of giving.
A generous quilt maker gives her beautiful quilts away. She agrees to make a quilt for a greedy king with hopes that it will make him happy. When she does the king changes his outlook on life and becomes a generous leader of his kingdom. I love the way this book reminds us that we all benefit when we learn to give to others.

All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan

Cherish the people and places around you.
Eli is born into a loving family. The story recounts the beautiful memories he has with his parents and grandparents. When his baby sister is born he in turn shares all the places to love with her. The language of the story tugs at your heart and reminds you to appreciate your own special people and places. The language is rich and the story is a gentle peek into the strong bonds of a loving family.

Friday, August 5, 2016

What We Believe Defines the Beginning of the School Year

As a principal and school leader, it's important to make clear what you value in your school. How do you want the school year to start? What are the non-negotiables that will define the school year? What is the collective vision for classrooms and the school community?

As I think back to the years when I was a principal, there were understandings and beliefs that were important to our school community. Thinking about them now and reflecting on what is important for our schools today, I realize that they remain a strong foundation for schools that are committed to student learning and a supportive learning community. I still hold strong to these beliefs.

1. Slow down. Enjoy the beginning moments of the school year. There will be plenty of time to teach the curriculum. Now is the time to get to know your students and for them to get to know each other. Build community that will sustain learning throughout the school year. Establish routines that will scaffold students on their learning journeys.

2. Get to know your students. Give them time to share who they are as learners. Watch and listen carefully and they will tell you what they need. Ask questions that get to the heart of who they are. Celebrate what they do well. Tuck away what you notice about their needs because it will make you a wise teacher in the months to come.

3. Maximize time and space. Schedule long blocks of time for reading workshop and don't compromise that time. Stay committed each and every day. Consider the importance of comfortable classroom design and the ways it can encourage collaboration. Build a classroom library with volume and variety and help students understand how they can access the books they need.

4. Encourage independent reading. Start small. Build stamina. Help them choose the books they want to read. Get to know students' literate histories.

5. Reflect on what you believe about learning and teaching. Think about what you value and what you believe children need to become successful learners. Your beliefs will help you make the right decisions for children throughout the school year.

These beliefs were front and center in our conversations among colleagues. We shared stories of the students in our care and we collaborated to determine the best ways to move students toward independence. We had continued conversations about how we were fulfilling our vision for our school. We talked about what our classrooms would look like/sound like as we built a common wisdom about learning and teaching.

The beliefs were evident in classrooms within the authentic experiences that children had each day. We would always circle back to these beliefs because they defined our work and our learning community. When beliefs are strong, they are in focus every day and provide the foundation for what happens for students and teachers.