Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ready to Ramp Up Reading!

"Books I found,
had the power to make time stand still,
retreat or fly into the future."
- Jim Bishop

Have you ever gotten lost in a book?  

I have.

Right now I'm in the midst of reading, The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart.  I haven't finished, but I've definitely connected with the main character.  I won't give away details, but I will give you one exchange that still has me reflecting...

Mark (twelve year old main character) and his dog Beau are riding in an old truck with a stranger named Wesley. Wesley has discovered Mark & Beau have run away and Mark has cancer.  He doesn't reveal this, but you can clearly tell Wesley knows.  Check out this brief conversation:

"Life's a tricky thing, idn't it, son?" Wesley's voice was pained.  "Figuring it all out, I mean.  For all of us.  We're all in this thing together.  But sometimes there's just no knowing which way to go."

I didn't say anything to Wesley. Sometimes even the right answers sound wrong if you don't like the question.  That's the truth.

This is a powerful.  And subsequently still has me thinking.

Before I began, The Honest Truth, I read other terrific books to my boys.  A few of our recent favorites have been - I Kill The Mockingbird by Paul Acampora, Paperboy by Vince Vawter, and Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff.  In each one of these stories it was very easy to connect with characters.  To me this is what helps the reader get lost in a story...the connections.

When I taught 5th grade I read a few stories to my students each year.  The stories that my students related to best always seemed to be, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson RawlsManiac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and The Kid in the Red Jacket by Barbara Park.  These stories were realistic, easy to picture and tugged on our emotions.  

I still remember the days that we would be in class reading and the chapter would end.  

I'll never forget when the collective group demanded that we kept on reading.  They were hooked and just didn't want to stop.  If you've ever had this happen you know what I'm talking about.

As a teacher and dad, I love it when I see kids lost in a story.  

Tomorrow begins one of the greatest months in our educational calendar, March!  Most people's first thoughts when it comes to March is, Reading Month.  Personally, I enjoy reading year round, but if we can ramp up reading excitement during March, I consider that a good thing.

Our students love Reading Month!  They love the activities and celebrations.  But you know another reason they love's because they see their teachers loving to read.  

With great power comes great responsibility...

No matter how busy we feel, it's of utmost importance that we show off our passion for reading.  

Let's help ignite the reading flame in all of our students.


Monday, March 2nd:  Conference Week Begins
Monday, March 2nd:  Book Fair Begins
Monday, March 2nd:  3:45pm String Team
Tuesday, March 3rd:  PTO Conference Dinner Night for Staff
Tuesday, March 3rd:  9:30am Spring Testing Meeting at Admin
Wednesday, March 4th:  Grades 3-5 Assembly at 8:45am
Wednesday, March 4th:  3:45pm String Team
Wednesday, March 4th:  PTO Conference Dinner Night for Staff
Wednesday, March 4th:  6:30pm iCreate celebration at the Michigan Theatre
Thursday, March 5th:  7:45am Doughnuts with Dad
Thursday, March 5th:  9am grades 2/3 in cafeteria for Miss Capital City read aloud
Thursday, March 5th:  9:30 grades K/1 in cafeteria for Miss Capital City read aloud
Thursday, March 5th:  10am grades 4/5 in cafeteria for Miss Capital City read aloud
Thursday, March 5th:  2pm CP Federal Credit Union
Thursday, March 5th: 4pm Boys/Girl Quest begins
Friday, March 6th:  Camo/Camp dress up day
Friday, March 6th:  5:30-8:30pm Elementary Carnival Night

Articles Worth Reading:

Videos Worth Watching:

Absolutely Inspiring! (8 min)

Touching Them of the greatest acts of sportsmanship! (6 min)

What color do you see? (2 min)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bigger Picture Teaching

"Humility leads to strength and not to weakness.
It is the highest form of self-respect
to admit mistakes and to make amends for them."
- John J. McCloy

Sometimes you don't know, what you don't know.  

Years ago when I was teaching 5th grade I had a young lady in my class.  Her name was Cassidy. Cassidy was a sweet girl, she got along with pretty much everybody, but learning didn't come easy. She had to work for everything she got.  In today's classroom she would likely be a student that received additional support from tutors or RTI Specialists.  Unfortunately for Cassidy, those layers of support were not available years ago.  Instead, I was fortunate to have limited parent support during the week that would help Cassidy and others.

As I reflect on Cassidy and others I think I failed them.  I remember looking at Cassidy's work in Math.  We were working on Order of Operations.  I remember looking at her paper and analyzing her answers.  In almost every wrong answer I noticed a problem.  Cassidy was making errors in multiplication.  More specifically she knew how to solve the problems, but the errors were small...yet in Math, small errors are still errors.  

The error I made was that the curriculum just kept going.  I carved a bit of time to practice with Cassidy each day, but the 3-5 minutes practicing didn't truly cut it.  Cassidy needed me to put the brakes on the curriculum and help her with foundational support.  We all have students similar to Cassidy.  What I'm getting at is this, as a teacher I should've been looking Big Picture for Cassidy. Instead I focused on the now and the not so distant future.  My mistake was not building her for long term success.  

I get it, sometimes as a teacher we focus on the immediate...the now...the standard or the skill. Sometimes we lose focus of the base.  Without building a strong foundation our students will struggle over time.  This was my mistake.  I knew what flaw Cassidy had and I tried to remedy it on the fly. In hindsight I should have differentiated my teaching and built her up from the foundation.  

Looking back and reflecting on the past is something I do often.  I fully realize my intentions were good.  I tried as hard then as I do now.  But what has happened over time is that I've gained valuable insight and perspective.  I see the big picture and I see that students need strong foundational skills to be successful.  I'm grateful for our RTI Specialists, Literacy Coaches and Support Staff.  These are the invaluable layers that allow us to work on Foundational Learning.  I encourage you all to focus on the long term gains instead of the short term band-aid.  Keep one eye on the Big Picture!

This Week's Big Question:  Is it acceptable to admit mistakes in education? 


Monday, February 23rd:  6:30 Community Forum on Balanced Calendar
Monday, February 23rd:  February Luncheon
Monday, February 23rd:  3:45 String Team
Tuesday, February 24th:  9am Admin Meeting
Tuesday, February 24th:  5:30 Board Meeting
Wednesday, February 25th:  8:45am K-2 Assembly
Wednesday, February 25th:  12:15-3pm Standard Based Report Card Meeting
Thursday, February 26th:  CD Federal Credit Union 2pm
Friday, February 27th:  8am Staff Meeting in Mrs. Sopers classroom

*  Reading Month Photo's are this week!
*  Next Week is Conference week, I designated Tuesday & Wednesday as dinner nights.
*  Next week is also Book Fair Week!
*  Next week we also have Donuts with Dad.

Articles Worth Reading:

Dear Governor Cuomo @TonySinanis

Each of Us Holds Value @TechNinjaTodd

Videos Worth Watching:

Selfie Proposal (1 min)

Dog walks other Dog? (1 min)

On the Road with Steve Hartman (3 min)

Man Re-Unites with Family (3 min)

Adorable girl on Ellen (7 min)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Change by Addition

I still remember the murmurs.  The huddled discussions in the hallway and the closed door meetings. I bet you can visualize the scene in your head.  Adults whispering to one another in hushed tones.  

And what was the topic?

The child that we all feel fear for.  The child that for little to no reason explodes.  The child that withdraws and is noticeably depressed.  The child that shows ZERO remorse.  The child that has an emotional impairment.

During my time as a classroom teacher and now, principal, my most challenging issues have easily been students with an emotional impairment.  I can vividly remember each and every case.  I can still remember the meetings that lasted month after month after month with hardly any action...until...

the blowup!

A few years ago I dealt with my first Emotionally Impaired student.  I saw what the blow-ups did to the student's peers.  I saw what the outbursts did to teachers.  I felt the anxiety day in and day out.  I didn't want to restrain, I tried my best to talk the student through it.  But all I could do, all any of us could do was try our best.  

And there in lies the rub.  When you are in the midst of difficult situations most people try their best. But, is your best talk or action?

My first experience with mental illness scared me.  

*  When I was called into the classroom after the student threw scissors.  

*  When I received word that students had evacuated the classroom and the student was throwing desks.

*  When the student had to be carried to the office by multiple adults.

But, when I went into the storage area in the gym and saw the student's eyes, I was scared for him.  I saw the darkness in his eyes.  I didn't see the same boy I typically saw.  He couldn't control it, the mental illness controlled him.  That day he hit me with a baseball bat more than 50 times.  At no point was I scared for myself...I was always scared for my students and staff.  

Until that happened, change was very slow.  My experiences have taught me that change occurs when something EXTREME happens.  As adults we close doors, we talk, we complete rating scales, we observe the student and we talk some more.  If the talk doesn't turn into action then I call it a waste.

So I ask, are we reactive or proactive?

We weren't and still are not equipped to handle volatile mental disorders. Eventually the student began to receive help.  But not until the outbursts were witnessed by hundreds. We are doing our kids a disservice by not providing timely intervention.

Let's take a look at the trends, statistics and research

*  1 out of 5 children are diagnosed with a mental health problem
*  The onset of mental illness often occurs between the ages of 7-11 years of age
*  21% of low-income children between 6-17 years of age have mental health problems
*  70% of youth in a juvenile justice system have a diagnosed mental health disorder
*  80% of children in need of mental health services do not receive them

Let's take a peek at our Nations Suicide Rate:  In 1986 the Suicide Rate was at an alarming 12.5%. At this point the need for support to all people increased.  As a nation we saw an increased surge of psychiatrists and psychologists.  This did have a positive impact, and by the year 2000 the Suicide Rate dropped to 10.0%.  Things were trending in a positive way.  Yet, from 2001 to 2013 we have taken a major step back. As of 2013 the Suicide Rate was at 12.6%...higher than the "alarming" 12.5% of 1986.

Let me ask you, what group would you imagine has the highest rate of Suicide?  I was surprised to discover...white males made up 70% of all suicides in 2013.  

Research states only 20% of children with mental health disorders are identified and receive mental health service/support.

The bottom line is Mental Illness and Emotional Impairments are real issues in our society.  The articles and research clearly support that this is not an issue that can be ignored or wished away.  The longer children go undiagnosed, or worse, untreated, the more likely that they will end up hurting themselves or others.

Let me clearly state that I do not believe we should test everyone.  I'm not a proponent of screening the masses and shoving pills in children.  That's not what this is about. When it comes to medication I believe that is between a doctor and the parents.  What I do believe in is adding supports to our youth.  

I bet there are some schools and districts that have strong supports in place to assist students with mental health disorders and the child's family.  But I venture to guess the majority of schools in our nation are simply not equipped to fully support mental health disorders and emotional impairments. Two years ago I was asked this question by a second year education major, "What certification/minor would you believe is in highest demand?"  Without blinking I told her, "If you have an EI certification and you are good at what you can pick where you want to work."  This advice doesn't prove that I own a crystal ball...this advice was simply me seeing an alarming trend.  Mental Health is on the rise and programs to support these students are nearly impossible to access.  It truly feels as though EI programs for schools are "Gate Keepers".  Ultimately they decide who gets in and who doesn't.  Let's be honest, it's a numbers game.  

Why Such Challenges?

Over the last five years I see a few specific hurdles to assisting students with mental health disorders. 

The first hurdle is parents.  As a parent myself I understand.  I've sat in doctor's offices and discussed medication.  I've gone to psychologists and discussed the pros and cons.  I DO understand.  But what I don't understand is the thought process that doing nothing will fix the problem.  Unfortunately that is what I most often see and hear.  Parents feel their child will grow out of it or they need more academic support.  I say this, "Hogwash!" Schools that I know don't make decisions on one event. Schools that I know bring a TEAM to the table and try multiple supports.  Yet parent push back is nearly inevitable.

The second hurdle is programs.  This is a big one.  Many schools do not have Emotional Impairment classrooms.  If you are faced with a lack of programming I would hope that you would seek assistance from outside agencies.  Other options are partnerships with other districts or hiring specialists/consultants to help with both the child and parents.  But with all that being said, you still may be facing a shortage of spots or programs.  This is where I think many schools are.  My suggestion:  Create the program!  Yes, I said it, create the program that helps our MOST AT-RISK kids.  

The third hurdle is money.  I understand that programs have costs attached to them.  I can't simply wave a wand and pay for the programs.  But what I can say is that if we do not put something in place this growing epidemic will continue to increase.

I often wonder why is it so difficult to help our kids?  I think I can speak for most of us and say, "We're all on the same team."  But we aren't working together in an efficient manner when it comes to our Emotionally Impaired kids.  Mental Health Disorders are not going fact they are on the rise.  

This post is a true reflection of many schools in America.  We all have encountered the student that is showing clear signs of a mental illness.  How will we work together to help our Most At-Risk students?

If you find yourself struggling to support Mental Illness or Emotional Impairment I encourage you to share this post and the following articles.  This is a CALL TO ACTION for key stakeholders to put the necessary programs in place and support our students with mental illnesses.

Many Teens Struggle with Untreated Mental Illness

Children's Mental Health

The Emotional Well-Being of Our Nation's Youth


Monday, February 16th:  President's Day No School
Tuesday, February 17th:  TEAM meeting 9am
Tuesday, February 17th:  3pm grades K-3 Girl Scout Interest meeting
Wednesday, February 18th:  Grades 3-5 Assembly in the gym at 8:45am
Wednesday, February 18th:  PLC time meet with 3rd grade
Wednesday, February 18th:  String Team
Thursday, February 19th:  CP Federal Credit Union 2pm
Friday, February 20th:  Birthday Luncheon

Articles Worth Reading:

What If... @DaisyDyerDuerr

Is Leadership Style Born...Or Made? @DJrSchug

Voxer 101 @Joe_Mazza

School Improvement VS We Suck Less @curriculumblog

Piling On? @jonharper70bd

It Started With a Teacher @GustafsonBrad

When Characters Won't Wait @AmeDyckman

Get Organized...Digitally @8Amber8

Are We Failing Extroverts? @edrethink

20 Habits Happy Couples Have (but never talk about) @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Longshot (11 min)

She said what? (1 min)

American Kids try Breakfast foods... (3 min)

SpaceJam? (1 min)

Hashtag - Why I'm Single (2 min)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Does your teaching reach hearts?

"The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious.
The desire to reach hearts is wise."
- Maya Angelou

What does meaningful learning look like?

Yesterday I attended #NovaNowGR.  This was the first time I had the opportunity to see Kent Innovation High.  For some time I saw pictures and heard about the phenomenal learning spaces.

Talk about impressive!  The space was open, inviting and the natural light was a refreshing change. 

As I walked into Kent Innovation, I immediately entered the +Rushton Hurley session.  Rushton led a discussion on meaningful learning.  He asked about our experiences as learners and within a minute he had my wheels spinning.  Three memories perculated in my head.  Interesting enough, not all were positive.

The first occurred in 7th grade.  My teacher was Ms. Berg.  Each day she had us writing in our journals.  On the surface this isn't that memorable.  But a couple things made it so.  The first was that we journaled every single day.  Routine can produce lasting memories.  The second was that each day Ms. Berg commented on our journal writings.  Not at the end of the week or even every other day. She commented each and every day.  As I look back this was significant.  Ms. Berg made relationships an important part of her classroom.  The final part that made it memorable for me was that I could write anything and I trusted her, she had won my trust.  As a 7th grade boy you sometimes need an outlet...Ms. Berg was that outlet for me.

The second meaningful learning experience was not a positive one.  I can still clearly visualize the moment.  I was sitting in science class next to my friend Doug.  It was quiz day.  Well, to be honest pop quizzes were part of this teachers norm.  The quiz was designed to see who read the chapter from the night before.  I sat in class and answered each question on my half-sheet of paper.  I felt so-so about the quiz.  I figured I got 8/10.  The teacher then asked us to pass the sheets forward.  As Doug and I waited for the person in front of us to turn around we whispered to each other.  He told me he thought he bombed it.  I shrugged and told him I thought I did okay.  Then SUDDENLY our teacher stormed in front of us, grumbled and crumpled up our papers right there.  Both Doug and I had open jaws.  The teacher looked at us, and then angrily said, "I said NO TALKING!"  We then had to meet with him after class.  As we shuffled our feet to the front desk I was prepared to apologize and try again...but no such luck.  He simply said, "I hope you learned your lesson because you both just received a zero on the quiz."  I was devastated...Doug on the other hand simply gave up.  Both of us truly despised our teacher.  Later that day I went home and told my parents.  They encouraged me to work hard and "get it back".  But internally I told myself I would never be like that teacher.  I knew right there that I would never intimidate and scare people to make myself superior.

The third moment is one I would have never predicted.  I was in Home Economics...something I dreaded...(until I saw the class list and noticed it was mainly girls in the class).  I did enjoy the teacher and somehow, someway she got me to step out of my comfort zone. Mrs. Anderson challenged me to cook and knit.  I'll never forget cooking in school and getting good enough to take the recipe home and try it for my family.  The night I cooked at home I was so proud. I was growing up.  The meal was a spinach pasta blend.  I added cheese and bread. I was really looking forward to serving my family.  Bless them, they were kind and supportive...but I could tell they really didn't like it.  Funny thing was, I actually did like it.  But everyone else was simply getting through it.  I'll never forget this experience and I'll always be thankful for Mrs. Anderson for pushing me out of my comfort zone.

These three learning experiences are all very different, but there is a commonality.  Each created an EMOTION.  Whether positive or negative I felt something.  The first was a strong feeling of friendship and caring.  The second was a feeling of despair and anger.  The third was a feeling of anxiety and doubt.  These emotions were real.  

I can tell you one thing that is certain.  The vast majority of my memories don't involve grades.  In fact, I don't think I ever said,  "That was special because I got an A!"  My experiences throughout school were generally positive.  I attribute this to teachers that helped make learning meaningful.

Looking back on +Rushton Hurley session I applaud him for sparking reflection and generating discussion.  I believe teaching is an art, it is imperative that we connect with our students and find ways to make learning matter.

This Week's Question is: What are your most vivid memories of learning?  


Monday, February 9th:  3pm Meeting
Monday, February 9th:  4pm Lego Club
Monday, February 9th:  String Team
Tuesday, February 10th:  Bible Release
Tuesday, February 10th:  4pm Minecraft Club
Tuesday, February 10th:  PTO Meeting 7pm
Wednesday, February 11th:  K-2 Assembly at 8:45
Wednesday, February 11th:  String Team
Wednesday, February 11th:  3pm discussion on twitter and voxer (meet in the library if interested)
Thursday, February 12th:  NAEP 4th grade testing 9am
Thursday, February 12th:  CP Federal Credit Union 2pm
Thursday, February 12th:  4pm Minecraft Club
Friday, February 13th:  8am Staff Meeting in Mrs. Smith's room
Friday, February 13th:  Valentine Parties in the PM
Friday, February 13th:  5th grade to All-Skate

*  Staff Meeting topics
- Standard Based Grading
- M-Step
- Reading Month
- Positives!

Articles Worth Reading:

Hurry Up and Slow Down @laughwithchad

Videos Worth Watching:

Will Smith and Jimmy Fallon BeatBox! (4 min)

The Austin Hatch story (7 min)

Lip Sync Battle (Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart and Jimmy Fallon) (13 min)

Schools that work for Kids... @E_Sheninger (15 min)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Listen or Fix

During the course of your day, week or month are you confronted with problems or issues?

The natural reaction when confronted with a problem is to help or try to fix the problem.

I believe our intentions as people are good.  We hear the problem and we truly want to make things better.  But what if we aren't supposed to fix the problem?

"Think about what happens when somebody comes into your office with a problem - whether work or personal. The tendency is to want to solve it. But most of the time, people aren't asking for help, they're asking to be heard. And most of the time, you shouldn't be solving the problem anyway." 
- Howard Behar

One of my struggles as a husband, father, principal and friend is that I really have a difficult time deciphering when to fix and when to listen.

On more than one occasion this has happened- I arrive home to see my fabulous wife and my two boys.  As I walk in and get settled I notice the boys chuckling as they watch Funniest Home Videos and then my wife and I share a story about our day.  On this given day she begins to share, and as she finishes up her story I begin to interject a solution.  She tilts her head and gives me, the look.  I scrunch up my face and say, what?  She then proceeds to tell me that I'm still in "Principal mode" and that I need to turn it off.  At this point I outwardly chuckle, but on the inside I'm legitimately perplexed.  I truly heard an issue and I was trying to help or fix.  

As a leader, whether in the classroom, building or district you are likely faced with issues and problems on a daily basis.  Some of the issues are large and others, not so much, but we are faced with them.  Do you try and fix each problem?  

As a classroom teacher I often listened to students arguing and squabbling.  During my early years I tried to fix problems, but as I gained experience and confidence my goal became teaching and empowering students to work it out.  I became more of a listener and moderator...not a fixer of all problems.  

But then I became principal and for some reason things changed a bit.  

As principal I try to protect my teachers the best I can.  I want to provide an environment where they get to simply focus on kids and learning.  

Recently I was walking through Warner and a staff member approached me.  We discussed a curriculum issue.  After a couple minutes of hearing the details I asked questions.  I was starting to better understand where some people stood with curriculum.  As we parted ways I thought about the conversation, I wondered if I was expected to have all the answers?  And then I came to the conclusion that I didn't have to fix this.  I had to understand the issue, and meet individuals where they are.  

Each day I reflect on conversations with students, staff and families.  Each conversation presents a different issue.  My area of growth is to listen first, then ask questions.  

My advice to others would be two things:

1)  We can all be better listeners.  Whether you are working with a student, parent, colleague or friend, try your best to listen and understand.  Think of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits - 

2)  Empower others with the capability of problem solving without you.  Protecting staff and students is noble and people will notice.  But building capacity amongst your staff and stakeholders will be much more efficient and sustainable.

As February begins I will make a conscious effort to improve as a listener and gain invaluable understanding.  

This Week's Big Questions:  Where are you on this continuum?  Are you a fixer, solver, listener or encourager?  What role do you most often find yourself in?


Monday, February 2nd:  SAU Tutors return
Monday, February 2nd:  Lego Club 4pm
Tuesday, February 3rd:  M-Step training after school
Tuesday, February 3rd:  4pm Minecraft Club
Wednesday, February 4th:  Grades 3-5 morning assembly
Wednesday, February 4th: Global School Play Day
Wednesday, February 4th:  PLC discussion on Standard Based Grading in the Library (all welcome)
Thursday, February 5th:  Re-Scheduled iCreate field trip to Westwinds (8:45am-10:50am)
Thursday, February 5th:  CP Federal Credit Union 2pm
Thursday, February 5th:  School Improvement Meeting 4pm Board Room
Thursday, February 5th:  4pm Minecraft Club

Articles Worth Reading:

Who's Your Mary? @laughwithchad

Sacred Cows in Education @curriculumblog

Be My Guest @BergsEyeView

Videos Worth Watching:

Opening Doors and Opening Hearts (6 min)

Charades with Jimmy Fallon (5 min)

It's about HEART (5 min)