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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New Years Goal 2016 #Compelledtribe

So, I am a member of the #compelledtribe, a bunch of great educators writing and sharing out thought input education, teaching, learning and sharing our passion for and about kids!

I have to admit, I have been slacking lately writing on this blog, so I am taking the time now as I wait for my delayed flight in Panama back to Newark to share my assignment, my goals for 2016.  (This is my second time writing this thank you 3G Panama!). So, here it goes on my handy dandy iPhone: (These are in no particular order.)

  1. Continue to watch my health and be more active with exercise!  ( I am 7 years in remission breast cancer survivor!  Yay me!)
  2. Write more on this blog!
  3. Be the best educator, I can be!
  4. Not stress about things.
  5. Be there for my husband and family and not let the work consume me!

And that is it.  If I can stay true to these 5 things, I will be content!

Happy New Year!  Let’s make 2016 the best! 😘

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The Lucky Quarter #compelledtribe

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Albania – The Land of Eagles or as we Albanians are called, Shqiptar’s, which means, “EAGLE”.  My sisters and I crack up because we say, “Can you speak Shqip?”  Basically, can you speak eagle, but really can you speak Albanian.  Actually, I know the language pretty well since I am  a second generation child born to first generation parents on both paternal and maternal sides and shared a home with my grandmother, Victoria, yes, my namesake, who couldn’t speak a word of English.  Full blooded Shqiptar!

Growing up in an ethnic culture brought about many traditions.  We grew up in the Eastern Orthodox faith and yes, just like the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, I got married at my Albanian church, we spit over our kids’ heads three times to ward off the evil spirits, we are loud and proud, we eat lamb, drink Raki, but most of all, we have a passion for life.

The traditions have been passed down and have stayed with our family.  One of the best traditions I fondly remember is the Lucky Quarter!  New Years for me growing up was a hectic time because my father celebrated his Name Day, St Vasil or St. Basil on New Year’s Day.  In our religious tradition, this was an open house for all our relatives and Albanian friends from church.  It was crazy!  My grandmothers and mom would be slaves to the kitchen cooking throughout the holidays all the wonderful Albanian fair – Lakor, Byrek, Brushtull, Baklava, feta cheese and black olives galore and whiskey shots for the old men with their cigars.  My sisters and I would bring the jelly dish around with glasses of water and the guests would say some congratulatory saying in Albanian with “Gezuar” at the end.  (Good Luck, God Speed, etc.!)

The best tradition, I think, that we celebrated was to have our New Year’s family meal with a nice hot bryrek pie (spinach or leek pie in a filo dough) with a wrapped quarter in it.  My grandmother would hide the quarter in the pie, and the lucky person who got the quarter had the best of luck for the year.  After my father passed away, we continued to carry on this tradition and we would swap, my sisters and my mom, putting the quarter in the pie so we could have a go at getting the lucky quarter for the year.

To this day, we continue to have our New Year’s Day Byrek with the lucky quarter.  We have passed the tradition along to our  nephews.  They look forward to it every year and we wonder, who is going to get that lucky year?  I feel that I was a lucky kid to have these unique family traditions.  I wonder if some of my students have something unique to share?  I am sure they do.  But I also wonder if there are some who do not have that special tradition.  Those are the students I always worry about during these months and school may be their only salvation.  I wonder….. can we make it better for our kids?  I am sure we can!


Byrek Hot Out of the Oven!


Moral Purpose in Education #CompelledTribe

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What is Your Moral Purpose?  Why do you do what you do in education?

I have been fortunate to be accepted as a fellow in the New York State Council Of School Superintendents “Future Superintendents Academy.”  No it is not “moving to the dark side.”  Actually it is a huge honor and we have a wonderful cohort of aspiring future superintendents that met the past two days, thinking, discussing, listening and sharing beliefs and theory of leadership.  It truly is an honor to be in this with these 22 men and women throughout New York State! 

During our second day, our speaker, Bob Reidy, the executive director of NYSCOSS had us buddy up with a partner and our assignment was to each other ask what we did and what our moral purpose was in education.  “Why do we do what we do in schools?  Why do we want to be superintendents?  What drives us?”   We got to introduce our partner and we were able to listen to all 22 beliefs and moral purposes.  It was humbling and a wonderful reminder why we do what we do.  (This is Michael Fullan 101.  He brings this question about moral imperative realized which is really deep and the ‘why’s’ of what we do in schools throughout his books and essays.  Moral imperative realized is deep.  Check it out and listen here. )

As a Compelled Tribe Blogger, we were tasked to share something about “Back To School” relations, activities with staff, students whatever.  Principals, why not bring this forward to your staff meeting and have teachers share their moral purpose?  Superintendents, you can bring this to cabinet meetings and have your principals introduce each other and share their moral purpose.  You could even do this with board members, what is your moral purpose to serve on this board of education?  Even if you don’t have the opportunity to share during a meeting, find someone and have a conversation.  Even reading this blog will stimulate reflection.  

Ask yourself, “What is your moral purpose?  Why do you do what you do in education?”  Then write it down and revisit it!

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