No Playground? Time for Creative Play!

Our school district is currently in the mist of a large renovation project.  This isn’t your normal, “Get new doors and sidewalks” type of project but a, “gut the entire school to the beam structures” kind of project.

There is a vision, a brilliant one, to consolidate our resources and place our elementary student population on one campus, our Middle School population on one campus and our High School population on yet another campus, making a total of 3 campuses.  And now construction started on the elementary school and boy is it being gutted!

As we moved classrooms and redistributed our student population so we can still conduct school, little did we know that our elementary playground would be dismantled due to gas and electric lines running under the playground and detouring them to the building!  Oh, the horrors for our UPK-2 kiddos!  No playground to play on!

Ah, but here is the best part.  Since there isn’t a playground, our kids are now forced to use their imagination!  Out come the kickballs, the bouncy balls, the footballs and hula-hoops.  Sidewalk chalk is used to draw on the pavement and group games are being incorporated.  But no playground equipment you say?  Yep, it has been a blessing in disguise!  Now, kids are being taught how to play creatively and purposefully. Maybe we should do away with the playground?  Oh no,  did I just write that????  Oh, what joy, wonder and imagination, our students  will encounter!  I love it!

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(Looking down one of the wings in our school during renovations.  Looks like a warehouse.  Who would have thought!)

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Are You a Hem, a Haw, a Sniff, or a Scurry?

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These past few weeks have been a whirlwind in our neck of the woods.  To say change has come to our building and district is an understatement.  Sometimes, I have a hard time keeping up with it, but what we are doing is really going to be great for our kids and our future.

We are in a process of changing the configuration of our district to consolidate our elementary building to one building, move our middle school to another building, and have our high school as a one high school, not a combined Jr.-Sr High.  This has been the vision of our Board of Education and our superintendent, to consolidate our needs, work together in tandem as grade levels, to bring the best for our students of our district.

As we all know, with any type of change, it gets scary.  To make this vision happen, we had to be creative and adjust our buildings next year so we can get the project started.  With delays at the NYSED department, (are you surprised?) and finally getting our project approved, we had to change our configuration so that the building I serve will house all the PreK-2 student populations.

As we all know, lots of speculation and angst can occur during any type of change.  Usually, it is harder for the adults to process the change than it is our children.  They always seem to have no problem with it.  But, in moving forward with this project, it has always brought me back to Spencer Johnson’s great book, Who Moved My Cheese?

With the announcement of movements in our elementary buildings, a flurry of emotions came forward from the adults.  Although the staff knew that a change was occurring, they did not have the details because we were and are literally at the mercy of the State Education Department and a timeline.  What was announced was not predicted, and even may change with a construction timeline that may change too.

With that, some of my staff that I have worked with for over 12 years will be moved.  Some were fine with it because they knew they had jobs.  Some were a bit shocked, but overcame it because again, they knew they had jobs.  Some lined up to ask for transfers in open positions for change.  Some are fine to stay put.

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Yet again, it brought me back to Who Moved My Cheese?  The book is a fable about Hem and Haw (terms for indecisiveness) who live in a maze and look for cheese.  They stumble on Cheese Station C along with another pair, Sniff and Scurry.  What happens is that Hem and Haw are satisfied with Cheese Station C and start to become arrogant in the process of finding cheese and stop and become complacent, thinking that the cheese in Cheese Station C will last forever.  In the end, Haw finds his way out of a situation, but Hem is complacent with his old ways of not changing to find new cheese.  (You can read a synopsis here.)

In the End:

Change happens, and for this change, it is happening for what is best for our kids.  In the book, the character, Haw, writes “The Handwriting on the Wall” of his thinking and “aha” moments.  Here they are:

Change Happens:  They Keep Moving The Cheese

Anticipate Change:  Get Ready For The Cheese To Move

Monitor Change:  Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old

Adapt To Change Quickly:  The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese

Change:  Move With The Cheese

Enjoy Change! :  Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Tase Of New Cheese

Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again:  They Keep Moving The Cheese

So, which one are you?

 

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An Ode to Lisa #CompelledTribe

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I am a member of the Compelled Tribe, a group of educators who write about public school education and all the good in it for our kids.   We want to get better at what we do, we want to be a part of a community, and we find value in collaboration. Our topic this month is to compose and write a tribute about a person in our school, one who lives out the mission of our school and values each of us as humans.

My tribute goes to my secretary, Lisa Sheen.

Never a day goes by that Lisa doesn’t come in with a smile on her face ready to tackle the day.  We have worked together for the past 11 years, and I say to her, she is the reason why I put in a transfer to our school.  She is the rock, the glue that holds our building together.  Lisa is the ultimate service provider, meaning she serves her “customers” with care, patience, kindness, respect.  I am really spoiled with the talent that she brings to our office.  She makes me “look good!”  Lisa problem solves and looks ahead to make processes and products that much better and professional.  Even in tough times, and let me tell you, over the 11 years we have had some times, we manage to get through it and hold each other up, the more she holding me up than me.

I am not sure if others have a Lisa Sheen, but let me tell you, I am blessed and spoiled to the core.  I literally get on the floor and kneel to her because she is that good. I told her I was going to write this and in her usual way, she graciously told me how honored she was to be even considered.

No Lisa, I am honored to have you in my life and work side-by-side with you.  Thank you for all you do for all of us.  Your are the best of the best!  Hands down!

 

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Deep Reading, Writing and Thinking

Reading and writing.  It is said that they go hand in hand, that great readers are great writers.  I love to read – ask my husband.  I have books piled next to my bed.  Amazon Prime – best thing EVER other than the Kindle White.  (Although I am old school – I like the feel of the book!)  If only we had a Barnes and Noble around the corner….

I have been doing very informal walk through’s ofnmy 3rd, 4th and 5th grade teachers to watch the “Independent Instructional Reading” block we incorporated in our school this year.  So you wonder, what is that?  Based on Jennifer Serravallo’s work, the Independent Instructional Reading  (IIR) block is based on a premise that if we ever want our children to be good readers, they need to build their stamina and be provided with long stretches of time to read.  Ms. Serravallo is on to something!  We have been through many initiatives in my 16 years as a principal, but I haven’t encountered the level of ownership of learning that my students are starting embrace as well as the passion for reading.  Our students, along with their teachers, are talking and writing about what they read.  They are setting goals, taking their Independent Reading Assessment extremely serious, as well as developing comprehension and writing skills.

This is not a “cookbook” method.  This is hard work for every teacher.  Teachers need to know their craft.  They need to know how to model the process of thinking by structuring questioning skills.  They need to help with the organization of student writing journals.  They need to model how to “stop and jot”, how to take notes and journal on their reading.  Very important, teachers need to know the books so they can have discussion as well as know how to help their students choose just right books.

But, like any program or “method”, it will always be about the teacher, not the program.  The teacher will always be the first line of the instruction and it will be about their craft and their pedagogy, their craft, their knowledge, and what they bring to the table.  And, they need a principal behind them to support the structure.  I have to say though, the conversations, the readings, and the professional development by Lea Mercantini Leibowitz, who is helping with professional development and coaching sure has changed the thinking of deep reading, writing and thinking and how we approach the teaching of English Language Arts to a different level in our school – all for the better!

Check out Jennifer’s website here.  She is prolific in her writing and has guest blogged on Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground here.

 

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Kids Are Curious, Wherever You Go

I have been fortunate to be able to travel to many places in the world.  We like to travel and see different parts of the world.  Some countries we go back to and others, it’s a new adventure.

But, the common thread I find in th various places, towns, on airplanes and in cities, are that young children are mostly the same in curiosity level.  They want to know who you are, where you come from.

For instance, walking down a street in a Panamanian village, kids as well as adults, looked upon us gringos with our nap sacks peaking into stores.  In Colombia, it was clear that we were outcasts in a Festival de Diablos (Festival of the Devils) and the young kids came and threw lots of flour on us to turn us white to be the same.  (I wasn’t sure why we got pelted – maybe because I was going after the kids and they kept coming at me, laughing! Plus I don’t know how much whiter we could get!😊)

Then there are the times we went to the carpet shops.  That wasn’t fun – chil labor at its best in Egypt.  This is when an educator has a difficult time seeing these big eyes look at you saying, “Please take me away.” (How do you change that culture?  They take young kids  to weave the rugs because they have small, thin fingers.  Talk about something out of a Dickens Tale of Two Citirs!

But, as always, it strikes me that kids are the same.  They want to learn, they want to dream,  they want to be curious, they want to be creative.  Let’s pave these opportunities in our schools and classrooms and let our kids be curious and creative!  We need to do that, so let get going.

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