Sunday, March 19, 2017

Embrace Change


It's been on my mind lately so I thought I'd write about it. 

A simple six letter word yet sometimes it brings much fear and anxiety into people's lives. 


Change means something different. Something we're not used to doing. Change leads us to the unknown. If we've never done it before, how do we know it will work? How do we know things will turn out right? 

This is where fear sets in. Anxiety. Doubt. Skepticism. All the negative thoughts start to takeover. But change doesn't have to be a bad thing. 

Sometimes things need to change. 
Sometimes things need to change and we never really realized it. 

When things change, it might be hard. 
It might be messy. It might not turn out the exactly the way you expected. 

But that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. 

Embrace change. Stay positive. Push through. And who knows, maybe in the end, things will actually be better than they were before. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Positive Calls

Many people in the #PrincipalsinAction group have shared over the past couple of years that they started doing 100 positive calls on the 100th day of school.  I was afraid to take on this challenge.   I didn't think I could do it.  Don't get me wrong, I understand the power of the positive call.  I made them as a teacher and I even started last year as a principal.  To be honest though, I probably only made about ten last year; 100 seemed way out of reach!

Well this year was going to be different.  I decided I would take on the challenge, but for me, I was going to be realistic.  Due to all day meetings on the 100th day of school and the following day, I gave myself a week.  At the end of the week I only has 82 calls finished. But guess what, I didn't give up.  Today I completed my 100th call!

Each call started out pretty much the same way.  After the initial introduction I quickly said, "Don't worry, everything is ok with ________."  When a parent sees the number from school they often assume their child is hurt or possibly in trouble.  I had to quickly reassure it was neither.

I then shared the positive news that was relayed to me by the staff members on campus and it was immediately followed with joy, appreciation and even a few tears.

In the days to follow I had kids coming up to me with big smiles on their face letting me know that their mom told them what I shared or their dad let them listen to my voicemail.  I even had a parent stop me at pick up in front of the school to tell me that she just told her daughter what I called to share and her daughter couldn't believe it.

These calls brightened the day of the parents and students, but selfishly, they brightened my day too. They kept me going through some tough days. They made me smile.  They made me slow down and appreciate all the good at our school.

I can't wait to make more!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Culture of Reading

As I sat in bed tonight with my two boys, all of us reading our books,  I smiled.  This makes me happy.  My boys enjoy reading.  They choose to do it and they sometimes complain when they don’t have more time to read.  Then my mind switched to school and all of my kids there.  This is what I want for them.  I want all of them to enjoy reading now and for years to come.  

Recently I read Igniting a Passion for Reading by Steven L. Layne that shared strategies for building lifelong readers.  A colleague shared it with me as something of interest due to the fact that we are always talking about getting kids to read, but more importantly getting kids to enjoy reading.  Something stood out to me in the very beginning of the book.  Steven talks about the disengaged readers that are forgotten by people because “fostering a love of reading in kids is not a curricular objective.”  He goes on to state that “we don’t seem overly concerned with making reading an attractive choice for kids.”  This really got me thinking.  With all the things that we have in society to grab the interests of kids, what are we doing with reading?  How are we creating a culture where kids want to read?  

This isn’t about teaching kids how to read or what to do with kids who are struggling to decode or comprehend, but it’s about the culture of the school.  What do we do to show kids that reading is what we value?  That reading is something we do?  That books are fun and enjoyable?

I truly believe that part of getting kids to enjoy reading is making it part of the culture.  We have made it part of our culture at home for my own boys, and we need to do the same at school.  

When I look around our campus, there are many things happening in classrooms and school wide that promote a culture of reading. Here are just a few:

Book Club - Two of our teachers started a book club for any interested students in 3rd-5th grade.  There are a variety of books to choose from so students aren’t limited to just one.  They read the book, come back, and give a book talk to the club.  After listening to the talks, the students get to choose another one to read.  

Reading Lounge - Inspired by our Voxer book club over the summer for The Book Whisperer, our reading intervention teacher devoted half of her class to a reading lounge for the students.  The lounge is open three days a week during recess for students to come, check out books and read.  It’s been quite a hit with all grade levels!  

Mystery Reader - Many classes have mystery readers come and surprise the kids by reading aloud to them.  It may be a family member, community member or a high school student.  
Book Cart - Our students council has put together a book cart that they bring out at recess multiple times a month.  It’s a give and take policy.  Kids bring a book they’ve already read to donate and pick a new one.  

Lunch with the Principal  - We are Readers - This year we switched up our lunch with the principal.  Instead of focusing on students being picked for the three school wide rules, we’ve centered it around reading.  Kids are chosen for a variety of reasons, all tied to reading: loves to read, new love of reading, improvement in can be anything!

Free Books  - We have accumulated many books in order to give them out to kids in need.  With a mixed demographic of students we have some kids that don’t have many books at home.  As teachers and I talk to kids and discover the need for more books at home, we send home a bundle of them.  

Read Aloud by Principal  - Throughout the year I get into classrooms and read to the kids.  Each time it’s a new picture book that I read to all the classes.  I love being with them and sharing my love of books.  
Reading Mentors - Students from our local high school work with a group of kids once a week after school on their reading.  Yes, this partly due to helping their reading skills, but mainly we hope that having the high school students read with them and model their love of reading, it will add the the culture at our school and inspire some of our students.  

One of the great things about education is that we are all in this together.  These ideas are not unique to our school, nor are they the only things out there.  We’ve taken these ideas from books we have read and schools we have been in contact with...and we hope to borrow more!

One of the best things I heard before winter break was when a kindergarten teacher shared with me that her students opened their gift from her, an Elephant and Piggie book, and they all got excited and yelled, “We LOVE reading!” She was excited to share and I was excited to hear it.  I want to keep that love growing as the kids continue to grow.  

I’d love to hear from people...what do you do at your school to create a culture of reading?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

It's Not About Being Perfect

Sometimes I feel in life that many of us try to be perfect.  We feel we’re not good enough in our job, in our personal life, working out, or other hobbies.  We apologize for shortcomings.  We get down on ourselves.  I admit it.  Sometimes I’m one of them.  

I sometimes wonder, when did this all start?  Did my parents put pressure on me?  Did my teachers? Society?  I remember back to when I was in 4th grade.  I had a project due for school about Native Americans.  I had made some sort of diorama and it was on the desk in my bedroom before I went to sleep.   In the middle of the night, my mom woke to find me sitting at my desk, crying, and saying it wasn’t good enough.  Really, I don’t remember this night, but I do remember my mom telling me about it and it has been something that has stayed with me forever.  The thing is, my parents didn’t pressure me.  They always wanted me to try my hardest and I never got in trouble for making a mistake.  So where did the pressure come from?

Fast forward to present day.  I have two boys, a 4th and 6th grader.  My 6th grader worries like nobody else.  He gets down on himself when he makes an error in baseball.  He always has to be right.  He goes in for extra help in math when his scores aren’t as high as he wants them.  I worry he’s just like me.  And believe it or not, I don’t expect him to be perfect.  I just want him to put forth his best effort in whatever he does.  If he can walk away saying I tried hard and I stayed positive, then I’m happy.  

As a leader in education, I want to do my best.  I know there is definitely pressure on me to do well, but really, no one expects me to be perfect.  No one is.  It’s ok to make mistakes.  It’s ok to realize you could’ve done something better if you had another chance.  I shared this with all the 5th graders last week at school.  I told them that I expect them to follow the rules and try their best.   I expect them to be kind to others.  But I also know they are going to make mistakes.  It’s part of life.  Everyone makes mistakes.  But what I want from them is to keep trying.  Be better than who they were yesterday.  Learn from their mistakes.  Grow as a person.

So who knows where the feeling of needing to be perfect comes from. Maybe it's just something we create inside ourselves.
Maybe it's a combination of genetics and society. I do know though, that what I strive for as an adult, should be the same as I want for my kids.  I hope well all remember...


Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep getting better.

Monday, January 9, 2017

One Word: Time

Since before 2017 began, I’ve been thinking about my one word. To be honest, I feel this slight pressure; my word has to be just right. It has to be powerful and convey meaning. Then I realized I'm over thinking. It's a bad habit of mine. My word is for me. I decided to focus on all the things I hope for and want to accomplish in 2017 and just like that, it was quite apparent.

My one word is time.

I want to spend more quality time with my family. Having a long break after Christmas gave me the chance to do just this. We played games, we laughed, we watched movies, we read...we spent time together.

I want to take time for me. It's easy to get caught up in work mode, mommy mode and taking care of everything else but myself. I want to make time to workout as it's something I enjoy and something that makes me feel good emotionally and physically.  I want to take time to read. Time to learn. Time to grow.

Time to listen. In the hustle and bustle of daily life I find myself not always truly listening. Whether it's with one of my boys at home, my husband, a friend, or a colleague, my mind is always two steps ahead on the next thing to get done. I want to focus on being present with people and slowing down.

And lastly, I want to be more aware of time. I often say “Where did the time go?" OR "I wish there was more time in the day to get things done." I need to focus my time on what's important. There's definitely free space in my day and I want to be more aware of how I use that time. I want to use it on things that are important to me.

Time is important. Time is precious. We never know what life will bring our way and I don't want to regret the time I didn't spend.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Looking Back on 2016

As 2017 begins it's time to think about my focus for this year, but before I do, I'll take time to look back on 2016. Lindsy Stumpenhorst of the #PrincipalsinAction Voxer group set forth a challenge to reflect on 2016: What would you change? What did you learn? What was crazy amazing? I could spend all day writing about 2016, but today I'll just choose a few things about my year as a principal.

- I've learned that I'm not in this alone. Sometimes while at my school site it can seem like I'm on my own, but really, I'm not. Only if I choose to be. I've pushed myself this year to really connect with others in person and over Voxer and it's truly been something amazing. No one understands our job like a fellow principal.  Having others to learn from, listen, challenge, and inspire me has been a huge support.

- In the same aspect, I've learned that it's ok to ask for help. I think the stubborn side of me wants to prove that I can do this. I don't need support from the others, especially people at the district office level. I can handle it. Subconsciously I think asking for help shows I'm weak. I've learned that that's not true. Reaching out and asking for support is ok, and sometimes necessary. District level personnel is there to support if I allow. They don't know what I need if I don't tell them.

- I ended last school year focused and organized with things I needed to get done. My plan was to start August just like that. Well that didn't happen. Come the craziness of the beginning of the year I let all the things go that helped focus me. All the things that I put into place with my Work.Life.Balance Voxer group went out the window. Moving into the second half of the school year, I want to change that. I want to go back to taking time to prioritize my week and what needs to be done.

- Through all the ups and downs of 2016, I have to remember the things that have been amazing. The kids are amazing! They make me laugh, they impress me and sometimes they even make me cry. But they're the reason I do what I do every day. My staff has amazed me.  Multiple teachers this year have taken leadership roles above and beyond their classroom to help improve the lives of our kids.  

2016 was a good year and here’s to 2017 being even better!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

No AR, No Big Deal

This post was written with Brandon Blom (@brandonkblom, you can check out his blog here). Brandon and I are both elementary school principals in the Roseville City School District.  

Last year the decision was made to stop using Accelerated Reader at our school.  Since we posted our blog post Why We Are Moving on from AR, we keep getting the same two questions: What are you doing now that AR is gone? How are teachers and students feeling without it?

As principals we get the opportunity to be in classes and talk to students and teachers on a daily basis.  We have the opportunity to see kids in all grade levels reading and engaged in activities with their reading.  So what have we seen?  There has definitely been a shift in how students show their understanding of what they are reading.   Teachers have been creative with their activities allowing kids choice and a chance to share what they are learning in multiple ways.  We are both seeing things that weren’t in our classrooms a year ago when we relied on AR quizzes.  
Some of the things we see include:
Book Conferences - Teachers are meeting with kids one on one to talk about the books they are reading.  Teachers are asking questions.  Kids are talking.  Conversations are taking place not only about the book, but also about if the books are a good fit, and recommendations are being made for other books to read.

IMG_2753.JPGBook Reviews - There are a variety of formats on how this looks in classes.  Some teachers are incorporating technology and using Padlet or Bookopolis for their reviews.  Others are using traditional paper and pencil for kids to write a review.

Book Talks - Kids are sharing their book with others.  They’re talking with partners, small groups, and in front of the whole class. This not only shows their understanding, but also generates an excitement for other students to read the book.  

Keeping Track of Books Read - Some teachers have created graphs or Google forms to log the book genres.  Others have students make their own Google sites for students to log books they read and their overall rating of the book.  

Example of a student website for book tracking

Reader’s Notebooks - Some classes have created personal notebooks where kids get to respond in writing or pictures about their
reading.  The kids get to choose what they want to write about and/or draw.  The kids loves these books!  They love that they get to choose.

Sharing what we see is important, but we also feel it is important to hear from our teachers.  After talking with them there is a mixed response.  For those that had their students take AR quizzes on a regular basis, some miss the accountability they feel that they quizzes gave them. Others however love that their kids are talking more about books and not having the pressure around reaching a goal.  

“I love the Reading Response Notebook and how I've seen the students take pride in them. The only negative for me without AR is not having the ease of looking online to see how many books a student has read and their comprehension (on details at least) of them.”
Jill Padilla, 2nd Grade Teacher, Sargeant Elementary

“No longer the stress of taking test and wondering if a student should read a book because of its point value. Kids are reading a book because they want to.”
Erin Roberts, 3rd Grade Teacher, Stoneridge

“Negative-AR is a quick way to check in with student reading. I liked that it was an option for kids to take a quiz if they wanted. Some kids really liked it.
Positive- Some kids got stressed out with goals/points. Parents also felt this, so it's a positive to not have ‘worry’ as a part of reading.”
Sheila Schue, 3rd Grade Teacher, Stoneridge

Mr. J, a 4th grade teacher as Sargeant put it best, “I really didn't look for something to replace it. I have been blessed with a group of students that truly love reading and we make time to read (for pleasure) everyday.”

That is exactly what we want for all of our kids.  We want them to find time to read every day and truly love it now and for years to come.  

Not only are we seeing differences in what kids are doing, but we also see teachers sharing ideas with others.   Two of the teachers from Stoneridge Elementary are even providing professional development to other K-5 teachers in our district at upcoming professional development.  Here is their session description:

If you’re looking for some engaging, practical, and motivating strategies to track your students’ reading, then look no further! Our techniques will help your students fall in love with reading and books and we will you help build a classroom community of readers.  We will be discussing some electronic tools such as Padlet and Bookopolis, as well as some good old fashioned paper and pencil strategies.  We will share best practices that incorporate writing, speaking & listening, and more. Your students will be begging for time to read and you will be amazed with their growth and love of reading.  

That description sounds a lot better than teaching teachers how to give an online multiple choice test.  

When we asked students if they missed AR, there were a variety of responses.  Some students mentioned that they miss the rewards aspect of it.  This isn’t hard to believe since most kids like a reward if one is offered.  However, once again the research is clear on rewards for students and that they produce short-term gains but not long-term results. We want the long-term results.  It was interesting to us that when we talked to students, even the ones that liked AR, not a single student said they read less because AR is gone.  We could find many students who did not like the pressure of meeting their AR goals and are enjoying reading more than ever.  

At the end of the day, take away AR, and your school will survive.  We can’t say for sure that kids are reading more without AR, but we know they are not reading less.  Without a doubt, kids are talking more about what they are reading than ever before.  Kids are sharing books with others and getting excited about new ones they hope to read.  Teachers are coming up with creative ways for their kids to share their reading and understanding with others; something that a multiple choice quiz doesn’t do.  There is also the cost.  Our school combined are saving over $7,000 by not having AR.  So yes, some students miss the point rewards.  Some teachers miss the accountability piece they felt the quizzes provided.  If students are talking more about books, reading just as much (if not more than ever), and teachers are coming up with more creative ways to know what kids are reading, then there is no reason to go back to AR.


Additional Reading Resources
Assessment, Choice, and the Learning Brain- Edutopia
10 Ways to Ditch The Reading Log- Middle School Minds Blog