Sunday, December 16, 2012

Making sense of the senseless

I've done a lot of thinking since Friday.  The whole day was surreal, I was attending a conference on the Common Core when I caught wind of what was happening in Connecticut.  When I briefly returned to the building for a short break I spoke with Mrs. Powers and we talked about how to improve our own front entrance at Warner.  At that time details were very sketchy.  As the day went on and into the night everyone learned of the complete senseless horror.

I've thought about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary and I continue to grieve.  I grieve for everyone.  As I contemplate what is best I decided to blog.  Mainly because I don't have all the answers.  I feel as the building principal I'm supposed to have all the answers, but I don't.  I felt writing things out would help me attempt to make sense of the senseless.

First, let me be very clear Sandy Hook was a safe and secure school.  I would even say that some of the safety measures at Sandy Hook are well ahead of most schools.  This is likely going to turn into schools locking down, policies changing, and communities demanding tighter security.  I do not believe that is the solution.  I agree safety and security are vital, but as I told a parent Friday, I will not waive the white flag and have inside recess everyday.  What makes elementary schools unique is that they all have youthful exuberance, the kids are full of life, and most kids live in their own bubble.  I for one do not want to burst that bubble by radically changing policies and taking the youthful fun out of elementary schools.

Second, if we are truly honest with ourselves most people hurting right now are adults.  I believe the pain is warranted, and I also believe that kids around the country need the adults to be steady, strong, and positive.  I have a seven year old, the last thing he wants to talk about is this.  He simply wants to know that mom and dad love him and that we will do everything in our power to keep him safe.  Kids need reassurance now more than ever.  A smile, a hug, a positive comment, and the steadiness of all of us to reassure them that we will protect them.

Finally, the brutal truth is we will never forget Sandy Hook.  We will never forget Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and all the other horrific events that have happened.  This is a time that we all grieve in our own way.  We lean on each other for support.  We remain steady for our kids. We reassure everyone that school is a safe place.  Most of all, we trust in our faith.  There is no making sense of senseless acts.  I simply pray and try my best to be the "rock" that my school, students and family need me to be.

Articles that you may find useful:

There is no lesson plan for tragedy

How to talk to kids about a school shooting...   (I strongly believe this is a parent issue)

Talking to kids about scary things

Teaching through Tragedy

This is why we do what we do.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What is your Mindset?

Several months ago I happened to be perusing around Twitter when I stumbled upon a blog post by @PrincipalJ , she had just finished the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.  I really enjoyed her post and I found that I connected with the frame of thinking.  A few weeks later my good friend and colleague Sue Haney began reading Mindset.  She raved about the book!  She also posted thoughts in her blog.  You can find Sue on Twitter @susankhaney , her blog pushed me over the top and I purchased the book.  As of now I'm not finished, but I'm compelled to share my current thoughts, charts, and quotes.  

First, what exactly is a "Mindset"?  Technically speaking a mindset is a noun.  The definition is:  a set of beliefs or a way of thinking that determines one's behavior, outlook and mental attitude.

Given that definition I feel as though I have several mindsets or so I thought.  Then I began reading Carol Dweck's book.  I soon found that maybe I was over thinking this, maybe there are only two mindsets.  That got me to think back...

Throughout my ten years in the classroom I encountered hundreds of students.  It did not take me long to get a feel for students.  Early in the year I always assigned a project.  The project was titled, "Home to School Map".  I shared past examples, I gave students poster boards, and I also gave students the option of working on the project at school, home, or both.  I listened to the comments students made.  Several loved the challenge, but every year I had a few that grumbled.  Now that I have researched, read, and learned I believe the difference in these students was the mindset.  Below is a diagram of the Fixed versus Growth Mindset.

I love this quote by Dweck, "The View you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.  It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value."  

As you look at the above chart I ask you to analyze yourself.  Be honest with yourself.  Where do you fall?  A few categories stick out to me, they are, Success Of Others, Criticism, and Effort.  I think of my students, I think of the ones that rose to the challenge.  I think of my old colleagues, as a teacher I knew who had a Growth and who had a Fixed Mindset.  I think of my close friends, here again, I have a pretty good idea where they fall.  

I must say that I do believe people can change.  I have a great friend, he and I attended college together and for the past several years we have played together on a summer golf league.  During college I would have told him that he had a "Fixed Mindset".  Over the past several years I have witnessed a transformation.  His Faith is much stronger, his Fitness is drastically improved, his Attitude is very optimistic.  I now believe he has a true "Growth Mindset".  People can change.  Change is not easy, change takes time.  

For example imagine this scenario - you are an adult and you are experiencing a "really" bad day:  you receive criticism from your employer, you are feeling angry and upset.  Later as you begin to drive home you receive a ticket.  You are very frustrated, you decide to share your experience with a close friend, but essentially you feel brushed off.  If you begin to blame, talk negatively to yourself, start to think that life is unfair, resort to calling things bad luck, or question your faith you would likely fall into the Fixed Mindset.  BUT, if you received the criticism and immediately thought "I must improve" or "I can work harder."  As for the ticket, what if you take ownership and responsibility and simply pay the fine.  Finally, as for your close friend brushing you off, what if you said to the person is anything troubling you, rather than focusing everything on yourself.  These small steps are part of the Growth Mindset.  

Each day we are tested, each day several circumstances come up that force us to react.  It is human nature to not be perfect.  I say embrace this, grow from mistakes, continue learning, and take on the Mindset of Growth.  
I highly recommend the book by Carol Dweck.  As you reflect, think about this:  Would you want your own kids to have a Growth or Fixed Mindset?  Would you rather work with someone that has a Growth or Fixed Mindset?  What Mindset to you gravitate towards?

Next Week at a Glance:

Tuesday, December 18th:  Select Choir 9am Assembly in Gym
Wednesday, December 19th:  K-2 Assembly
Wednesday, December 19th:  K and 4 Field Trip to Optimist Arena
Wednesday, Decmeber 19th:  Warner Community Outreach 4pm-7pm
Thursday, December 20th:  Holiday Parties
Friday, December 21st:  Lil Boy Blue has reserved the Cafeteria at 9am and 2pm

Great Things Noticed or Heard:

*  Enjoyed watching Mrs. Struck's students discuss axis, tilt, and seasons with each other.  Always powerful when peers teach each other.
*  Spent the day with Taylor R. pleased with his appropriateness and mental math ability.  He surprised me with his knowledge.
*  Saw a spectacular train track in Mrs. Kline's room!  Well done Abby!
*  Read stories to Shilah, Joshua, Lilly, and Heidi...reading never gets old.
*  String Teamers were delighted that their performance was on YouTube!  
*  Impressed with Dominic's ability to clearly explain his reasoning in math.  
*  Feeling a bit Rotten, headed into Mrs. Moffitt's room and thoroughly enjoyed my time with Bella, Breslin, Alex, Tyler, Grace, and the rest of Mrs. Moffitt's great group!
*  Random Acts of Kindness from Mrs. Dault's First Graders!  The enthusiasm and excitement make the holidays enjoyable.
*  50 degrees on December this Michigan?
*  CP Federal Credit Union workers were doing a fabulous job with our students.  Proud of the maturity and initiative this group is showing.
*  Great Science lesson in Miss Hinkley's class.  Prof. Kuntzelman came in and amazed the group with dry ice, liquid nitrogen, and other science tricks!  This was 100% engagement!
*  Enjoyed walking through the halls and classrooms and seeing so many wonderful decorations. 
*  Thank you to Susan Walz for continually helping out!  Susan stayed late into the night helping to prepare for Breakfast with Santa!
*  Really terrific messages sent by Secret Santas!  I like how we all pick each other up.  Thank you for making Warner special!

Articles Worth Reading:

Videos Worth Watching:

Year in Review (3 min)


Kid Snippet Dance Class (2 min)


Thoughts and Prayers with Connecticut. 


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Enjoy the Ride

As a runner I covet the finish line.  Whether I'm running a hard, fast 5K or a steady half-marathon I always have a surge of relief and joy when the finish line comes into view.  I don't think I'm alone in this feeling, I believe most people are thrilled to finish.  

Just recently nearly everyone in Michigan had to complete the retirement reform options.  This was the online decision on insurance and retirement benefits.  In this process there were calculators and projections based on when you would retire.  If you are anything like me this got you to thinking.  I've been in education for 14 years, I'm planning to be in education for another 15-20 easy.  This process did make me think of when I will retire and some of the dreams and goals of retirement.  I don't think I was alone in these thoughts.  

I was reminded recently to enjoy the ride.  This was timely advice for me.  Sometimes we get caught up in so much that we forget to enjoy the present.  Everyone has busy lives, people are taking graduate classes, going to conferences, attending their own kids events, trying to just keep their head above water, and life seems hectic.  These are the moments that people think of the finish line.  This is also the time of year that things can be stressful.  Don't get me wrong, I love the holidays, but it can be stressful.  People want to get just the right gift, or attend a Holiday party. Time and money become scarce around the holidays.  That adds to stress and takes us away from enjoying the ride.

I happen to be lucky enough to have two young boys that remind me of, "the moment".  The mentality of youth is living in the moment, as adults sometimes we want them to plan more and "think about the future", but sometimes we should heed their advice and "enjoy the ride".

How does this translate into the classroom?  I think of Education in the year 2013 (right around the corner), standardized testing is everywhere and it is definitely HIGH STAKES.  Legislators look at the finish line, they don't look at the journey.  The only thing that matters is the final score, I say bologna!  The journey is what makes us who we are.  My college golf coach once told me, "Ben, your score is your's not how much you are worth."

As life gets stressful, as we so often think ahead or project the future I say, enjoy the ride!  The day to day journey is what shapes us and makes us who we are.  

Next Week At a Glance:

Monday, Dec. 10th:  Santa's Secret Shop Opens
Tuesday, Dec. 11th:  NO after school string team practice 
Wednesday, Dec. 12th:  Grades 3-5 assembly location TBD
Wednesday, Dec. 12th:  Last Day of Santa's Secret Shop
Wednesday, Dec. 12th:  2:40 Sam's Club Giveaway (10 min) (meet in Library)
Wednesday, Dec. 12th:  Holiday Tea in Boardroom 1:30-4:30
Thursday, Dec. 13th:  Fire Drill in the AM
Friday, Dec. 14th:  CP Fed. Credit Union Checkbook Presentations
Saturday, Dec. 15th:  Breakfast with Santa 8am

Great Things Noticed or Heard:

*  Miss Hinkley's class loved the adventure at the YMCA.  I heard great stories of reaching the top of the rock wall, fun in the swimming pool, and great games played during the day.  
*  Impressed with Vanessa's lightning quick spelling skills!
*  Enjoyed the snuggle messages I read in Mrs. Smith's class.
*  Got mobbed with 9 hugs in Mrs. Moffitt's room.
*  The perimeter and area song got stuck in my head in Mrs. Oliver's room.
*  Shaving cream spelling in Mrs. King's class.  Smelled great and the kids were loving it!
*  Fun to watch students creating their own blends in Art.  I can't wait to see the Van Gogh.
*  Very thankful to our SAU tutors.  Most tutors are now on holiday break.  
*  Can't say enough about Mrs. Powers and Mrs. Rouse, Thursday the office looked more like a med unit.  Mrs. Powers and Mrs. Rouse were patient, understanding, and helpful.  

Articles Worth Your Time:

Thinking of having your students blog? Check this out - > KidBlog

Closing textbooks  by @Educationweek

10 Tips to Run in the Cold by

Videos Worth Watching

This week's staff meeting focused on Video Story Problems:  Here is my page on Vimeo.  This is really easy, please don't be shy if you are interested.  (2 min)

Check out trim.RwZtaY on Vimeo My first "basic" video story problem.  If you cannot access go to Vimeo and type in my name, my videos are all public.

Give this video a chance, at first you may not see it.  (2 min)

Be Infectious!  (3 min)

Friday, November 30, 2012

What's best?

The most commonly used phrase I encounter with parents is this, "I want what is best for my child."  Internally I think one thing...Don't we all?  I mean seriously, I do not know an educator that wants to do the worst for a child.

This phrase brings up an internal struggle for me.  What is best?  I can tell you what I believe is best may be different from what you believe is best?  This phrase that is so often used is truly open ended.  Let me speak to my own son:  Drew is a ten year old in 5th grade.  Drew has challenges, he has Aspergers, and he struggles to understand many social situations.  Drew is a bright boy, shoot he knows more facts about science then I ever could.  His reading ability is off the charts, and his knowledge of Star Wars could likely rival George Lucas.  So the interesting case is this, what is best for Drew?  Do I want the schools and society to conform to Drew?  Do I want Drew to conform to society and figure it out?  What is best?  

I've thought long and hard about this situation.  This situation is unique because it is Drew, but let's be blunt...we all have students that are challenges.  Some are extreme ADHD, some are LD, some are handicapped, and some come to school with so much baggage that learning is an after thought.  The debate is, "what is best?"  I can give you my thoughts, but I am only one.  

What is best?  I believe what is best is that we love and care for each child individually.  My belief is that a student that enjoys school WILL succeed.  Now let's be honest...success is open to interpretation. Some success means a 9-5 job, others success is college.  It all depends on your perspective.  Here is how I created "what I thought was best" in the classroom:

1)  I invested in my students.  
     - I went to sporting events.  
     - I listened to their stories.
     - I learned their likes and dislikes.

2)  I tried very hard to ENGAGE all students.
     - I'm passionate about all subjects.  I loved getting excited and energetic about learning.
     - I created projects that made learning relevant.  
     - I shared the purpose of the lesson with kids.
     - I personalized successes and privatized learning moments.

3)  I communicated with parents.
     - I typically called 6-8 parents a weekend to discuss progress, strengths and weaknesses.
     - I tried very hard to share more successes than failures.
     - I honestly shared with parents what I viewed the biggest issue was.

All of this was my effort to individualize and figure out what is best?  My experience has taught me something, "engaged students succeed!"  I cannot tell you the last time I witnessed a fully engaged student failing.

The phrase will not go away, parents will always say, "I want what is best for my child."  At this point the debate begins, what is best?  All educators will have their opinions, you now know mine.  Engagement is essential.  Engaged students enjoy school, engaged students put forth effort, and engaged students usually learn.  

What is your opinion?  How would you respond to the phrase, "I want what is best for my child." What would your plan be?

Next Week At a Glance:

December 1:  Happy Birthday to Tammy Wohlford
Monday, December 3rd:  Admin Meeting 9-12
Monday, December 3rd:  String Team rehearsal at JSO 4:30-5:30pm
Tuesday, December 4th:  Panther Pride Luncheon
Tuesday, December 4th:  String Team 4-5pm
Tuesday, December 4th:  Fire Drill or Lockdown (depending on weather)
Wednesday, December 5th:  K-2 Assembly
Wednesday, December 5th 2:45 meeting in Library with Sam's Club rep (gift card giveaway)
Friday, December 7th:  Staff Meeting at 8am in Mrs. Soper's room
Saturday, December 8th:  Happy Birthday to Merrie Jo Williams

Great Things Noticed or Heard:

*  I cannot say enough about the Holiday Musical on Monday.  The students were well behaved and the performance was phenomenal.  I was pleased with the student behavior and the positive energy that was in the air.  Thank you Teachers for all you did to help prepare!
*  Mrs. Fitz, you continue to impress!  The Holiday Musical was a hit once again!  Great Job.
*  Next up...Drama Club's performance of Charlotte's Web.  Well Done 5th graders!  I taught 5th grade for nine would have taken me ten years to do what they did in a few short weeks.  WOW!
*  Mrs. Trudell, wonderful work!  You and Mrs. Brue did a great job with all your Drama Club students, you really impressed me.
*  Got a laugh out of Sid this week.  He was eating a snack and dropped a piece inside his violin!  Made me laugh.
*  Students loved the Punk Rocker in me.  I'm not a big dress up guy, but they earned it and I followed through.  I realize some of you knew something was up because I had jeans on.  
*  I got a kick out of Barrett bringing me a birthday treat.  I tried to coax him into giving me ten cupcakes instead of one.  Funny part was that he was willing to give me more than one by the end of it!
*  Wonderful teamwork was viewed in Mrs. Gibbs class this week.  I really enjoy listening to students teach students in a polite, respectful manner.
*  Mrs. Archer's class solved the riddle...well done 1st graders
*  Really enjoyed watching Darby D. welcome a new first grader to Warner.  
*  Hailey B.  made a wonderful picture and brought it to me.  A kindergarten student that works hard and uses her time wisely...precious!
*  Proud Parents left Thursday's Charlotte's Web performance.  Parents couldn't stop raving about the performance.
*  Very impressed with all Warner performers.  I truly believe a few "knocked it out of the park!"  Amazing young adults.

Articles Worth Your Time:

How Teens Do Research in the Digital World

15 unwritten rules for runners

Rock Star Adam Raut

8 Things Skilled Teachers Think, Say and Do

Mr. Powers Daily Tweeter  shared by@MrPowersCMS

5th grade blog   shared by @WiscPrincipal

12 Alternatives to Letter Grades  shared by @baldy7

Videos Worth Watching:

First Year Teacher, well done young man!  (3 min)

This was our Grade 3-5 video of the week.  The message to the students was, "How will you make today count?"  (11 min)  Highly recommend!

Life of Pi official trailer.  This movie really intrigues me, do I finish the book first or watch it on the big screen?  (2 min)

Kid Snippet!  These crack me up! (2 min)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is this week, it is the time to give thanks.  I must say I love what I do.  Some of this may sound cheesy or mushy, but it's the truth.  I'm thankful for being Warner Elementary Principal.  

Three years ago I started at Warner.  I really only knew one or two staff members, everyone else was new to me.  As I reflect back on my first year I realize the number one goal was trust.  Building trust with staff, building trust with parents, and building trust with students.  My first year was a tough year at Warner.  There was death, sickness, tears, anger, and a lot of frustration.  All of that turmoil helped me grow.  I found that all of these challenges taught me about people and taught me about myself.  It is easy to be a nice person when life is good, the challenge is, will you have a strong character when faced with adversity?  Year one was tough, but I learned to trust, I learned that I need others and that I can't do it alone.

Now we are into year three for me.  I can now say with confidence and belief I love the Warner Staff!  I'm Thankful for everyone.  I view us like a family, families have squabbles, families don't always see eye to eye, but families look out for each other and pick each other up when someone is down.  I reflect often, one reflection I recently made was  trying to pinpoint the difference between year one and now.  One huge difference sticks out...EXPERIENCE.  I believe I am the same person that I have always been.  One key difference is experience.  There is no substitute for experience.  

I think back to my first year teaching.  I remember the year vividly.  I had a nice group of kids, Chelsea H., Brian R., Kyle F., Kayla H., and I could keep going (yes I still remember the names, it's a gift).  During my first year I believed I was doing a great job.  Then I sat down for my first ever parent/teacher conferences.  I had a teachers kid.  I'll never forget sitting in the conference and having her drill me with question after question on what I was doing to help her daughter.  Her tone was okay, but her words cut right through me.  After that conference I wanted to crawl in a hole.  My fellow teachers encouraged me and one phrase stuck out..."It's okay, it's your first year."  I despised this statement, I never wanted built in excuses, I never wanted to be viewed as a struggling first year teacher.  I had high standards for myself, I knew for a fact that no one was tougher on me than myself. The point is, there is no substitute to experience.  I grew from my first year teaching.  

I then compare that to my first year at Warner.  Adversity, turmoil, and challenge faced all of us.  My first year I was very occupied with staff moral and I found that I relied on others being happy to make me feel happy.  My days were roller coasters, if the staff, students, and community were happy then I felt good.  If I heard someone speak poorly about me I was crushed.  Thank goodness for my wife, many days that first year she just listened, she encouraged me and supported me the best she could.  That first year taught me something very valuable.  The lesson I learned is that I cannot rely on others to dictate how I feel about myself.  Now I have a new perspective, it is rather simple.  My happiness depends on things I can control.  I feel happy when I'm patient with people.  I feel happy when I, "do my homework" regarding certain situations.  I feel happy when I exercise for my own health.  Happiness now comes from inside me, I do not rely on others to make me happy.  I value people's thoughts and opinions, but they do not dictate my happiness.  

I'm thankful for many things.  I'm thankful for my family, my health, my friends.  I'm also thankful for a truly WONDERFUL STAFF!  Every day is my MISSION.  I love what I do, I'm thankful for the dedication and passion that all of you bring to Warner Elementary.  We are a team, we are a family, and you have all helped me grow and improve.  Thank you for having faith in me.  

Great Things Noticed or Heard:

*  It appeared as though everyone enjoyed the Jazz Band performance.  Mr. Bickle's crew not only sounded terrific they involved staff members and kept things upbeat.  Great way to start a Monday!
*  Some of our more lively students really reacted well to music.  Keeping the beat and focused on the Jazz!
*  Heard three fifth graders say, "I'm going to be in the Jazz band when I get older!"
*  Attended the 4th grade Field Trip to Local Businesses.  Very impressed with the student questions, attentiveness, and polite manners.  I was proud of our students.  Well done Mrs. Gibbs and Miss Hinkley.
*  Tremendous parent chaperone support on our field trip, this I'm very Thankful for.
*  Not sure if any of you noticed, but as I walked the halls Tuesday I became more and more hungry.  Our school smelled delicious!  
*  Pancake breakfast, Kettle Corn Popcorn, Turkey Feast, and Pumpkin Pie...Here goes the waistline!
*  We had the pleasure of Miss Kelly Gooch coming to Warner and talking with students about healthy choices.  One second grade girl asked Kelly if it was hard to rule an Empire!
*  Several good questions were asked, I especially enjoyed the questions about, favorite color, favorite team, and favorite food.  #KidsLoveRandomQuestions
*  4th grade singers!  Well done Mrs. Gibbs, that tune got in my head. #StayinAlive
*  Got to see some Charlie Brown Thanksgiving in a few rooms! #Classic
*  Got a kick out of Joey E., Miss Kelly gave him a hug, he couldn't stop smelling his shirt the rest of the day.
*  Three Cheers to Mrs. Fitz!  Students are loving music and we are all looking forward to the Holiday Musical on the 26th!
*  Wonderful Holiday atmosphere this week.  Everyone was upbeat and polite.  The energy level throughout the building was high.

Next Week At a Glance:

Monday, November 26th: Holiday Musical at CAC (Grades K, 2, 4)
Monday, November 26th:  Practice at CAC 9am for grades K, 2, 4
Monday, November 26th:  Art Rotation begins
Tuesday, November 27th:  TEAM Meeting
Tuesday, November 27th:  Happy Birthday to Laura Smith
Wednesday, November 28th:  Assembly in the Gym with grades 3-5
Thursday, November 29th:  4pm School Improvement Meeting in Boardroom
Thursday, November 29th:  Drama Club Performs "Charlotte's Web" 7pm in CAC
Friday, November 30th:  String Team Practice 4pm-5pm
Saturday, December 1st:  Happy Birthday Tammy Wohlford

Articles Worth Your Time:

Michigan Ending Public Education?

Is Michigan going to dissolve School Districts?

Legislature poised to Jam through Bills and take over Districts?

Snyder seeks funding flexibility...critics believe this is dangerous

What's Next by Mr. Bill Powers @MrPowersCMS

Off the Clock: Giving Students More Time to Demonstrate Learning

The Skills Gap shared by @educationweek

Videos Worth Watching:

Hilarious! Thank you Mrs. Gibbs and Miss Hinkley!  (2 min)

What's the Password (3 min)

I often hear that Story Problems are the most difficult for students.  Take the time to watch Ben Rimes video and try to enhance your Story Problem technique.  (14 min)  I absolutely love this strategy to engage students and make learning more relevant!

Pictures ~

Friday, November 16, 2012

Classroom Fluff?

I recently had a discussion with a fellow educator and they referred to this time of the year as the "fluff".  This individual talked about Thanksgiving, then Christmas and how several academic areas get pushed aside.  This got me to thinking.  How important is the "fluff"?  Let me first say that "fluff" looks very different depending on the grade level you are teaching.  Fluff is not just in the classroom, fluff can also occur with assemblies.  So this made me think, should "fluff" be cut out?  Is "fluff" important?  Can too much "fluff" be detrimental? 

Before I dive into my personal opinion I need to reflect on my days in 5th grade.  Every year at Thanksgiving my 5th grade students watched a movie.  Every year it was the same movie, "A Thanksgiving Promise."  This movie had stars such as, Beau Bridges, Jason Bateman, and Courtney Thorne-Smith.  The movie was dated, it was a mid 1980's made for television story.  I never got tired of watching this movie.  It had heroes, villains, bullying, conflict, suspense, and joy.  Year after year I was able to use this "fluff" activity and use it as a teaching tool.  I actually became so comfortable and confident in my planning that I enjoyed the short Thanksgiving week more than any other.  I had it down to a perfect science.  In fact, each year my students had a half-day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I actually had enough materials to make it a full day.  My kids were engaged and excited about what was going on, there were no glances at the clocks and no comments about how slow the day was going.  In fact, students often said, " Wow! This week went really fast!"  That was my feedback that they were so engaged in the learning that they didn't have time to get bored.

As for my opinion on "fluff".  I believe there are two types of classroom "fluff". The first type is fluff with a purpose.  I would view these as: classroom art projects, classroom created books, spelling word searches, coloring pages and anything else that has a purpose, but the purpose isn't in the forefront of your thinking.  I will never criticize purposeful projects.

Then we have the second type of "fluff", fluff as a filler.  This in my opinion is not real educational.  It could be watching a movie that isn't directly related to anything you are doing.  It could be creating a project that has no real value or purpose.  It could even be extended reading time to essentially fill time.  When I was teaching I never did "read-ins" where kids would simply read all day.  I always believed that you could read for a substantial amount of time, but all day seemed excessive in my mind.  I'll admit I did show movies that didn't always have a purpose, but the only times this ever happened were as classroom rewards.  These times were very few and far between.  I tried very hard to have purposeful fluff.  I tried to avoid filler fluff.

My take is this, Classroom "fluff" will always be around.  Take the time to create meaningful projects that have a purpose.  You'll be happier with yourself and your lessons will have flow and reason.  Embrace the Holiday Season with purpose driven projects like these:

1)  Show a Thanksgiving or Holiday themed movie 
*  Write a persuasive paper on the choices of the main character in the movie.
*  Stop the movie 20 minutes from the end and have the students write their own ending.  Complete the movie the next day.
*  Relate parts of the movie to Core Democratic Values, discuss choices, actions, and consequences.
2)  Create a GingerBread House
*  Work independently and make your own design, identify geometric shapes
*  Work with a partner and communicate
*  Design the house on paper first and then see how close they come with real materials.
3) Create classroom crafts to take to Retirement homes or create Christmas tree decorations and decorate trees at local businesses.

If you are searching for purpose driven holiday activities a good spot to begin is Pinterest.  The above ideas were things I tried as a teacher.

Next Week at a Glance:

Happy Birthday on Saturday the 17th to Chris Kline
Monday, November 19th:  4th grade to Local Businesses
Monday, November 19th:  Paul Bickle is bringing his Jazz Band over for a 30 minute performance 8:45am for (Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and 5th grade) Located in the Gym
Tuesday, November 20th:  Rose Queen Kelly Gooch is coming for all grades, check your email for locations and times
Tuesday, November 20th:  Warner String Team 4pm
Friday, November 23rd:  Happy Birthday Suzanne Gibbs
Wednesday the 21st - Sunday the 25th  Enjoy your Thanksgiving Holiday.

Great Things Noticed or Heard:

*  I saw Aurora at the grocery store, she ran up to me and hugged me.  Then she proceeded to say, "What are you doing here Mr. Gilpin?"  
*  Book Fair week!  So many students shopped and came out excited to read!
*  Conference Week...As Jenny and Brad stated, we ate like Kings and Queens.
*  Mrs. Oliver made sure to tell me that every time she saw me I was in the lounge...are you saying I eat to much? 
*  Showed a slideshow on Tuesday during lunch.  Kids love to see pictures of themselves.
*  Visited gym on Friday, watched our 5th graders Limbo.  Very impressed with Natalie S. and McKenzie P.  
*  Shout out to Mrs. Struck's 5th graders, impressive job working together in science.
*  Wonderful comments about Pioneer Living from parents, teachers, and students.  Then they came back and watched Little House on the Prairie.  #classic
*  Saw a wonderful creation in Mrs. Kline's room.  Students built a city, the tallest structure was called, the church
*  Terrific assembly with the Spring Arbor Men's Basketball team!  Lots of fun and excitement.
*  Watched Jack paint in Mrs. Nash's room.  Young Five students painting almost every day!
*  I got to dance to the letter "P" in Mrs. Moffitt's room.  Gotta Love Smart Boards!
*  Worked with Tim and Alex R. on Social Studies.  #broughtbackmemories
*  Played Julian K. in checkers and dominated him.  I tell students I do not let them win.  They must EARN it.  Proud that Julian had a good day and earned the right to challenge me.
*  Impressed with Mrs. Delor's data and preparation before a challenging IEP.  #WellDone
*  Heard wonderful comments about Mrs. Soper's Stone Soup.  Only one problem, based on comments I'm afraid to chew.  #PossibleStonesinSoup?
*Began doing daily announcements:  several students commented positively, they even asked why I hadn't been doing that all year. Thank you to everyone that takes the time to watch morning announcements.  I believe it informs our students and sets the tone for the day.

Articles Worth Your Time:

10 tips for using Evernote in the Classroom by Joseph Sanfilippo 

50 ways to use Skype in the Classroom by Katie Lepi   (shared by @ShellTerrell)

Avoiding the Staff Lounge? by George Couros (Truth to this?)  (Shared by @PrincipalBerry)

12 Things Kids Want from Their Teachers by Shannon Schuster  (Shared by @MrPowersCMS)

Apple TV versus SmartBoard

Videos Worth Your Time:

Hilarious 2 minute clip!

Choices, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce?  (18 minutes)

Power of Introverts!  Great speaker...interesting to listen to.  (19 min)

Saturday Night Live Spoof.  This makes me laugh out loud.  (30 seconds)

Kindergarten students learning together!

Panther Pride!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Putting my finger on the issue...

On the surface this should have felt like a good week.  Our TEAM meeting was very positive, several meetings with parents were upbeat, appreciative, and supportive.  I met with a couple students that were suffering, we talked about mom moving away and grandparents passing away.  These conversations were therapeutic, I felt like I made a difference.  The entire week felt as though things were moving forward. 

These conversations made my week feel topsy turvy.  But that wasn't the only thing.  I also felt very reactive, my week was full of meetings and several were scheduled and rescheduled, in fact some days this week I didn't have meetings on my calendar and then suddenly I was sitting in a room discussing a student issue.  I didn't feel 100% prepared. The best way I can explain this is by relating it to my classroom lessons.

Being a male teacher in the classroom I often received students that struggled academically and behaviorally.  This became the norm for me.  In the classroom I was responsible for lesson planning, teaching, counseling and meeting with my Special Education teacher and discussing current levels and needs of students.

In my third year of teaching I began to feel as though I was coming in to my own and I had a clear philosophy and vision of how I wanted my classroom to function.  Early on in the year I discovered I had a really great class.  The students were bright, humorous, and loved being in school.  One stretch stands out for me, I relaxed, I got complacent.  I still planned for the week, but my plans were rough, not very detailed, kinda flying by the seat of my pants.  During this stretch I experienced several behavioral issues and my class was full of drama, I also felt rushed and irritable.  I got home one evening and I was frustrated, I was frustrated with myself.  I took full responsibility for this bad stretch.  I couldn't blame the students, I had to look in the mirror.  My plans were average, my students weren't engaged, I didn't put them in a position to succeed.  I remember saying to my grade level partner, "I didn't even assist my special education students, I just simply crossed off problems and gave them more time, I have myself to blame." I looked at him and I told him this week I was unprepared,  I wasn't my best.  We talked for a bit and one thing stood out, I knew the problem and now I had to be the one to make it right.  I vowed to improve and my goal was to make each day better than the previous.  With this mentality my lessons blossomed, my behavior issues were slim if any, my achievement rose, and my classroom culture was phenomenal.  Students loved being in school.  I was able to put my finger on the issue as a teacher, a major aspect I had to "tighten up" was creating strong lesson plans that engaged all students.

Now as Principal, I put my finger on it again.  I feel best when I feel prepared.  This is very similar to my teaching days.  Being prepared allows me to engage with all groups, it allows me to feel organized and knowledgable.  My goal is to be more prepared, I want to make each day better than the previous.  I plan to do this by listening, reading, and communicating.  Something to think about:  What aspect of your life can you improve to help make each day better than the one before?

Great Things Noticed or Heard:

*  I got a few glares on Thursday when the fire alarm went off : )  (just 7 more drills this year)
*  Jon R. made my day!  He told his Kids Hope Mentor he wants to be just like Mr. Gilpin when he grows up! #proud #rolemodel
*  2nd Grade loved the Air Zoo!  I heard great comments from parents, students, and teachers.  2nd grade will definitely be going back.
*  Mrs. King's class was absolutely freezing...but the kids never complained.  Great kids...and yes, I'm working on it.
*  Very pleased with TEAM meeting teachers, thorough information, good data, and honest feedback on students.  This is how we move forward and help kids get the right programming.
*  TAT on Wednesday was productive.  Kindergarten had never participated in a TAT, I was really impressed with the open dialogue, brainstorming, and openness to trying new things.  Well done ladies!
*  Great chat with Mrs. Struck on a struggling student.  I'm impressed with the "figure it out" mentality.
*  Apple Turkey's in Mrs. King's room!
*  Mrs. Dault has a "higher" power in her room!  If you are looking for a smile enter her room, immediately turnaround and look at the lockers!
*  Great job by our 5th graders with announcements this week.
*  Our CP workers are off to a strong start.  Mrs. Hatler is getting them in the groove.
*  Witnessed very polite and appropriate class elections and our school wide mock election.  Students were respectful of each other and engaged in the democratic process.

Things to Take Note of:

*  Lockdown this week
*  Panther Pride Luncheon
*  Book Fair week
*  Pioneer Living for 3rd grade
*  Picture Retakes
*  No Mr. Raymond all week, everyone needs to pitch in and work together.
*  If there is a fire drill the first goal is that everyone evacuates the building.  The second goal, is to locate all students.  By now your students should know the spot your class goes to, reinforce to them to get out and then rejoin the class.

Next Week at a Glance:

Monday, November 12th:  Mobile Dentist
Monday, November 12th:  Happy Birthday Mrs. Sharp
Monday, November 12th:  Conferences
Tuesday, November 13th:  Panther Pride Lunch in Computer Lab Area
Tuesday, November 13th:  Book Fair begins 8am-8pm
Tuesday, November 13th:  Warner String Team 4pm
Tuesday, November 13th:  Conferences
Wednesday, November 14th:  SAU basketball Assembly grades 3-5 in gym 8:45am
Wednesday, November 14th:  Grades K-2 PLC meeting
Thursday, November 15th:  After School Art Club
Friday, November 16th:  Happy Birthday Mrs. Powers
Friday, November 16th:  Picture Retakes

Articles Worth Your Time:

Apps for Students with Autism

Favorite Formative Assessment: Exit Slip shared by Tony Sinanis

Why every school needs an innovation day, shared by Michael Berry

Defining Differentiated Instruction (MUST read)

Videos Worth Your Time:

"If I can change the attitude the content will fall into place."  -Kafele  (4 min)

Is it true, only 25% of students raise their hands and actively participate? (2 min) (Thought provoking)

With it being book fair week I thought this was appropriate...made me smile. (3 min)

Solution focused Parent/Teacher conferences (5 min)