Students Leading the Team

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This post is strictly about bragging.  My parents always taught it wasn’t nice to brag, but I feel like I have something to brag about.  I have to admit one of my favorite things to observe in our building is when our older students willingly step up and help out our younger students.  It is something that happens all the time and in many ways and it causes me to have a great sense of pride as their principal.

Last Wednesday our entire student body, staff and a number of parents set out on our annual Toonies for Terry Fox walk.  We usually organize ourselves in our buddy groups, older grades with younger grades and off we go with our vice-principal leading the pack.  It just so happens that the day of our walk it was very hot and humid.  We really hadn’t gone too far when some of our kindergarten students were getting a little tired and the little cheeks were turning red from the heat.

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When asked to help, our big grade 7 and 8 students did not even hesitate.   I usually try to move through the line so I can talk to various students, take pictures and then end up near the end to help bring in the stragglers.  Everywhere I looked I could see older students holding our little students by the hand, talking to them, encouraging them.  I asked some of the boys to offer a piggy back or two and without hesitation, most of them were up for the challenge even though they were hot, tired and thirsty themselves.

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Once again on Friday of last week, I had the opportunity to watch our students at work, lending a hand without hesitation.  We have been working very hard at our school to first raise money for a 2 phase playground installation.  The first part was a large play structure for our grade 3-5 playground that we installed a year ago last summer.  The second phase was swings, tire swings, a climbing dome and some picnic table mainly on our grade 6-8 playground.  We asked our grade 8 students to help with the installation on Friday.

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First of all I know that the thought of all day outside on a beautiful Friday was pretty tempting, but even so, I was so impressed with the way some of them tackled the job with enthusiasm and stamina.  With the music blasting across the playground, we worked together to figure out difficult instructions, bolt many pieces together and solve problems when we got stuck.  I was so impressed with not only the attitude many of them had, but also with the skill level many of them possessed.
Maybe bragging isn’t nice, but I can’t help it, I am a very proud principal.

Roaring into Reading

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One of the things I feel I need to improve on is using our data to drive our goals and instruction at the school level.  The more I work with data, the more I appreciate the information we are able to gather from it, and it’s usefulness when it comes to achieving our school goals.

As we approached the end of last school year we realized our early learning reading scores were not as high as we would like them to be, and some of our students had not made as much improvement with their reading as we would have liked to see.  We decided as a staff that we needed to dedicate our efforts to the improvement of our young readers.  After much research and discussion we decided front loading of phonological awareness skills was where we were going to start.  Our student support teachers organized groupings according to our May benchmarking scores and set about planning and getting materials prepared to hit our students hard with small group phonological awareness and reading, on a daily basis, as soon as we returned to school in the fall.

We decided to call our groups ROAR, which stands for Really Outrageous at Reading.  We started first thing Monday morning on the second week of school.  We divided our grade ones and twos into small groups with each adult taking a group every day for 20 to 30 minutes.  We are using  the classroom teachers, principal, student support teachers, custodian, educational assistants, library technician, office administrator, counselor and speech language pathologist to run our groups. It is a real testament to the strength of our school team, when so many members are willing to help.

 

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At the beginning of the week our little students seemed a bit reluctant and unsure about what was going on.  The second morning when I asked my group members if they had read their books at home, not all of them replied yes, but as the week went by the excitement for the groups continued to grow.  Pretty soon the students couldn’t wait to line up and get to our rooms so we could get started.  Now when I ask them all if they have read their books at home and practiced their sight words, they usually reply with a rounding yes!

A typical group meeting would begin with a new book.  As we are reading the book we are talking about letters, blends, syllables, rhymes and making predictions about what is coming next.  We spend some time recalling events after we are finished reading, then  move on to play a game involving sight words, letter sounds or something along those lines.  Every few days the group leader will change-up the game and we rotate books and activities on a regular basis.

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ROAR has been a lot of work for our student support teachers who spent endless hours in June getting all of our reading materials and activities ready.  They have met with our staff and trained all of us, teaching us the routines we needed to follow on the daily basis.  Our two student support teachers are the ones we go to if we are having any problems or issues along the way.

We plan to carry out ROAR for about 8 weeks, then screen all of our students to see if they have made any improvements in our reading scores from May data.   My guess is we will see improvements.  We hope to do ROAR again this year with our young students and hopefully move into our other age groups as well.

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It has been such an honor for me to be involved with our reading groups.  It is fun to be up close and personal with our early years students and I can’t help but be excited by their enthusiasm for learning.  I can’t wait to see the data we gather from our screening in October and  look forward to being involved with our next ROAR project.

 

The Beauty of a Fresh Start

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I love fresh starts…those times when you are able to start with a fresh canvas and many options ahead.  That is why I love the beginning of each new school year. We meet, once again, as a school team looking forward to our students arrival and having energy we have built up over the summer to tackle new challenges.

When we arrived at the end of June and moved into summer I knew that I needed much rest and rejuvenation before I could even think about rallying up for another year.  I know I was not alone in these feelings.  There were many teachers who felt equally as exhausted as I did.  I spent my summer reading, hanging out with my family and reflecting on what the new year might look like.  There were  many wonderful things we were able to accomplish last year and there were many things that might not have gone exactly as planned or perhaps did not go on at all.

I always remind my staff that teaching is not for the faint at heart.  It is like the job that never ends.  Very rewarding, and very exhausting.  I would not want to be doing any other job than the one I have right now, but finding balance and maintaining a positive mindset can be difficult at times.  Once the new year begins it takes off with such speed and never really slows down until the end.

For me fresh starts involves much reflection.  Many questions ran through my head this summer.  How could I support my teachers, especially my new teachers fresh to the profession?  How could I organize my time to be able to maintain a balance in my workload?  How would I look after myself and not take things so personally?  How could I do a better job of communicating with our parents?  How could I change my teaching methods so my students might get the best experience possible?  How would I make it a priority to interact with my PLN and continue to grow as an administrator and teacher?

The reflection does not solve all problems of course, but some of my best planning happens through random thoughts when I have time to have them.  Through these thoughts I was able to sketch out my vision for the school year.

1.  The most important part of our school is the strong team that exists within.  My vision for this year would be for all of us to continue to work as a strong team. That we will welcome our new staff into our team and learn to use each of our individual talents to make us stronger.   As a school staff we will work together and help each other get to the places we want to be. I hope I can work with individual staff members to support and meet their needs.

2.  I hope we will continue to do everything possible to help our students succeed.  We will looks for ways to build their trust and readjust our teaching methods to bring out the best in each one of them.  Our journey towards more inquiry learning, digital portfolios, student feedback and reflection and team teaching will continue to grow and our students will benefit from that. We will get better at using our achievement and behavior data to drive our teaching and learning, starting with our early years and phonological awareness.

3.  I hope we will work hard to engage our parents as a valuable part of our team.  I look forward to finding ways to involve them in the things we do.  I hope we will  communicate better and strive to build stronger relationships that are key to students success.  I hope we can tell our positive story in a variety of ways and through that process help our parents understand the value they serve in our team.

4.  I never doubt the ability and desires of our school team, and I know we will continue to do everything possible to do our job well.  I hope we will take care of ourselves in the process.  There are many things we cannot control, so I hope we can let go of those things and concentrate on the things we can control and expend our energies on what is important within our building and within our families and friends.

I know it is difficult to wrap up the vision for a school year in one post and reality is much different than random thoughts during a summer.  I also know things will happen that we are not expecting, but right now I am riding on the beauty of a fresh start.