Getting off to a Positive Start

www.pixabay.com
http://www.pixabay.com

We are almost a month into the new school year and I am feeling motivated by many things.  I love the fresh start of the new year when everyone is rested and full of energy.  We can forget about our mistakes of last year, re-celebrate the successes and plan for a fantastic year ahead.

The first day of school when the students come back fresh faced and loaded down with new school supplies.  Smiles and hugs are shared.  Even our middle-year’s students have to admit they are at least a little bit glad to be back with their classmates and friends.  The fresh start allows so many to shine, while welcoming new students and adjusting to new teachers.  One of the favorite things I do at the beginning of each year is read to every group of students in the school.  I try to share my love of reading and choose my books to leave them with the message of working hard, not giving up and learning from our mistakes.

Grade 2
Grade 2

I have been lucky enough to spend the two days this month with our school division admin team listening and learning from Tom Hierck.  His message is clear- do as many positive things as possible to build up every student in our schools to reach their potential.  We do not give up on kids!

During these two days of learning and discussion we were able to think and share about all the ways we are being positive in our schools.  I think our staff does a great job of trying to meet the needs of all of our students and look for ways of celebrating their individual talents and abilities.  As I walk from classroom to classroom, I am amazed by the things I see happening on a daily basis. I know I am lucky to have such a dedicated, hardworking staff and our students benefit from that hard work.  I am proud of each and every one of them and wonder if I can ask them to do even more than they already are.

Another part of  Tom Hierck’s message was about  the need for collective buy in to what we feel is important in our schools.  It takes hard work to create and maintain  positive attitude and culture every day.  Are we doing everything we can to model those behaviors we would like to see in our students?  Are we taking the time to build relationships that create safe and engaging environments?  Are we reaching out to our parents in a positive way so they feel like they are an important and integral part of our learning team?

Last summer as I was reading and reflecting on the new school year I came across a post written about positive office referrals. I wish I had taken a better record of where the idea came from because I would like to thank the author of that post.

The principal who wrote the post was describing how much he enjoyed doing positive office referrals and how it had helped forge a positive relationship with students and parents.  Basically the idea was simple, teachers and support staff refer any student down to the office for any positive reason.  It might be academic, social, like being a good friend, helping out in the lunch room or in some cases something as simple as just getting to school on time.

Meeting students where they are, setting the bar high, but not too high and remembering one thing:  building positive relationships are the most important thing we do to make a difference in a students emotional, social and academic growth.

Once the school year starts, it seems to move along at lightening speed.  I hope we can slow down to catch those small moments where we can all make a positive difference in a students life, even those students who test us the most.

 

Music to Exercise the Brain

 

http://www.genuineuk.com/
http://www.genuineuk.com/

I had the honor and pure enjoyment of starting my week attending and supervising our winter band concert this past week.  I am always over the top impressed with the level of musical skill our students are able to demonstrate in such a short period of time.

We share our band instructor with 3 other schools and the students only have one practice together before each concert.   When you think about it that is pretty amazing!

 

 

Our school is lucky to be able to have a band and music program under the direction of two hard-working and talented teachers.  I often think they do not get enough credit for the work they are doing with our students.

Our band teacher works tirelessly to gather instruments, find music, support practice and plan concerts.  It requires never-ending patience and dedication. She also organizes a trip for our grade 8 band students every year, so they can celebrate their hard work and accomplishments.

I don’t know if many of you have heard beginning band students in September or have stood in a room full of young band students warming up anticipating a concert.  Let me tell you it is not pretty!  I usually have to hover half in the hallway because I cannot stand the noise level and confusion.  Band and music teachers take this in their stride on a daily basis.

 

Winter Band Concert
Winter Band Concert

Our music teacher provides many creative musical opportunities for all of our students.  She runs a choir and our students were able to sing both at Creighton Lodge and the local nursing home this past week. They were also able to participate in … and sing at our Remembrance Day Service.  Right now she is working long hours coordinating our k-3 annual Christmas concert which will take place this coming week. It is a night of excitement and fun enjoyed by all.  Many times a week as I am walking around our school,  I witness students so excited because they are off to music class.

Grade 1 Music
Grade 1 Music

It can be hard to teach on the fringe.  I do it myself, and it can be difficult at times to see the importance of the “extra” subjects when we are lining them up against math, English Language Arts, Science and Social Studies.

We all know that everything we teach is important, but when it comes to music education, I think it is time to give credit where credit is due.

Now that we have the ability to study brain neurology there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that music affects our development and functioning in a variety of ways such as:

  • Reading and literacy skills
  • Spatial-temporal reasoning
  •  Mathematic abilities
  • Emotional intelligence

Research is showing us that music has a variety of healing qualities such as pain relief and reducing blood pressure and headaches.  It improves memory performance and helps us work more productively.

In fact, music is one of the few activities that involves the whole brain.

Other research is showing a connection between playing an instrument and improved executive functioning such as problem solving, switching between tasks and focus.

The thing I find a bit frustrating is, despite the growing body of evidence that supports music and arts programs, they are often the first things to be cut off the list when money is tight and resources are limited.  Band and music are expensive programs to offer because they require specialized equipment and travel is often necessary, but the benefits to all areas of student development cannot be argued.

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I hope that our students and parents will continue to support our band program understanding the short and long-term benefits of playing a musical instrument. The school division requires a minimum number of students to be in a unit of instruction.  I worry sometimes that our numbers will fall below those minimums and we will not longer be able to offer our students such a unique and wonderful opportunity.

 

When I was attending school I did not have the option to participate in a band program.  I think I missed out on something very important and valuable. I am grateful that my son was able to learn to play a trumpet and have the experience of playing in a band.  I realize that it will probably not be something he carries throughout his life, but the benefits of the experience will be long-lasting.

I hope that before we dismiss supporting the band and music programs in our schools that we will take a moment and consider that what we are giving up is much more than “just another class.”

 

 

 

 

We Are Smarter Together

http://www.mysnowshow.com/
http://www.mysnowshow.com/

Every year as I watch my son’s hockey teams start their season it is the same thing.  For the most part, his team consists of a different group of boys each year. They do not start off playing as a team.

It seems as if each player is trying to prove themselves as the best goal scorer or the best defenseman or the hardest hitter.  After they get a few games under their sticks, they come around to the idea that hockey needs to be a team sport and at that point we start seeing some well-played hockey games.

At the beginning of the school year we had a number of changes in our school staff.  At our first staff meeting, before the school year began, we were all getting to know each other, and maybe at that point,  we were trying to prove ourselves to each other as the boys on the hockey team do, but more likely we were all wondering how we might get to know each other well enough and fast enough to construct the strong team we all know is necessary to do what is best for our students.

B13jXS-CcAAS0hX As an administrator, I am constantly in awe of the strengths and abilities of the people I work with, but at the beginning of each year I feel a bit unbalanced as we try to figure out each other’s strengths and build the trust necessary to work as a team.

I strongly believe in teamwork.  I also strongly believe that each member of the team is equally important.  We cannot run a school and educate and support our students without each member of our team including our bus driver, our custodians, parents, teachers and support staff .

B1TVOmBCEAAdi0q It occurred to me in the past couple of weeks  that without me even knowing it the strength of our team is building around me and I can see it everywhere I look.

We recently completed our first term reporting and student-led conferences.  Certainly a busy and stressful time for everyone. As I walked around the building on our conference nights talking to students and visiting with parents I had a feeling of celebration of the learning of our students.  I had so many positive conversations and I credit the strength of our school team for happy students and families.

This year we have spent a great amount of time building our Student Support Team.  This team consists of our RTI teacher (Response to Intervention), our LST teacher (Learning Support), our school counselor, the vice-principal and myself. Individual classroom teachers are also included when needed.   We talk about academic needs, behavior, attendance and many things directly related to how we can support individual students and families. B0FislzCMAEQQvf We have been having student support meetings for a number of years, but this year, under the direction of our school division, we have been able to make our meetings much more focused with accountability and follow-up that only benefits our students. We are now tracking all of the students in our building and truly working as a team, to ensure we are doing our best to meet the needs of our students.

It has been an interesting process and involves everyone in the building.  The best part for our students is that we are getting to know them well.  We are starting to really know their stories, we try to be aware of their ups and downs and their individual needs.

The importance of a strong school team cannot be understated.  I see the benefits to our students every day. Long gone are the days when we can come to school, close our classroom doors and do our thing.

What I see in our school everyday is…we are smarter together.

Celebrating the Moments

http://www.edutopia.org/
http://www.edutopia.org/

I been thinking recently how hard it can be to stay right in the moment in this job.  It seems like with the greater focus on gathering data and striving toward future goals it can be easy to forget to celebrate the journey and remember the story along the way. Now I am not trying to say that goals and data are not important…quite the opposite really.  I think having goals keeps us focused on continual improvement and we can’t argue with that.  Gathering data is one quick and easy way to show that we are making improvements or in some case that we are not.  It helps us know when to change our strategies and readjust our focus when striving to meet the needs of our students.

I think one thing we need to remember though, is that data does not tell the whole story.  We can get so focused on where we need to be that we forget to concentrate on where we are.

Last weekend I came across a blog post linked to twitter by Josh Stumpenhorst.  In his post titled, “Stop Preparing Students” he talks about our race to the future always preparing our students for some future moment, rather than staying in the present and enjoying and nurturing their growth where they are right now.

Every day when I am walking around our school and observing teachers and students in action, I appreciate the here and the now.  It is really what tells the story about what is happening.  It tells the story of student growth and of teachers nurturing that growth in every student in many different ways.

As we are approaching our 3-way conferences, again we are planning for the here and the now.  Students are reflecting on their own growth and what things they will share with their parents.  Our parents are wondering how their children are doing right now at this point in their growth and academic and social development.  Teachers are completing report cards taking a look at the here and now for each of their students.  They know the journey and are planning to share the story of student growth with parents next week.

Looking at data and striving toward goals is so important in our schools and in our classrooms, but taking time to celebrate the moments is important as well.  Each of our students has a story to tell, I hope we will slow down and listen.

http://www.jenksps.org/vnews/display.v/TP/5084ace25def9
http://www.jenksps.org/vnews/display.v/TP/5084ace25def9

Students Leading the Team

Terry1

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.

Terry3

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.

Terry2

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.

playground3

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.

Thank Goodness for Early Years Teachers

 

photo (5)
Grade 1 Students @pdaleGr1

 

My very first teaching job was a grade 1 and 2 classroom on a fly in First Nations Reserve in northern Manitoba.  I was so excited to have a teaching position and, of course, for my husband and I there were many changes, with our first year of living on our own as a married couple.  I enjoyed my students and the experiences we had that year.  At the end of the year, however,  I remembered thinking that I never wanted to teach grade one again.

It had nothing to do with not liking my students or the experience.  As I reflected at the end of the year I had to wonder if I had done enough for my young students.  Had I given them enough of a foundation to carry them through the rest of their learning?  Had we covered enough?  Did they read well enough?  Did they have enough basic math?  Had I taught them the social skills they needed?  The questions were never-ending and ran through my mind for a long time that summer.

As I proceeded with my teaching career I realized that I was better suited for teaching high school or middle years students and that is where I have spent the majority of my teaching career.   It is a bit of a joke in my school that I am not cut out for kindergarten.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all my students from kindergarten through grade 8, but I really think it takes a very special person to teach early years.  Not all of us are cut out for it.

IMG_0014-001
Kindergarten @pdalekinders

 

I have the absolute honor of working with a group of hard-working and caring early years teachers. They work well as a team and are an important part of the success of our students.  I think some people might have a misconception about what early years actually teachers do.  I have heard generalizations such as:

“How hard can it be, all they do is play all day.”

“You don’t really have to teach anything that hard or complicated.”

“You don’t really have to deal with any serious behavior problems.”

Recently I had a conversation with a high school principal I had never met,  as I was calling to do a reference check.  In the course of our chat, the principal implied that elementary school was boring and would not be a challenge for the individual I was calling about.  I had to laugh a little bit after I got off the phone.  I could tell that this individual had never spent time teaching early years.  It is not what I would describe as boring at all.

The thing that amazes me the most about my early years teachers is the never-ending love and kindness they show to their young students.  Early years are not just about A,B, C’s and 1,2,3’s, but more about learning the basics of getting along.  How to figure out the difference between a tattle and a report.  How to accept everyone even when they may not agree with you.  How to share your time with others when you may be used to having adults to yourself, how to play fair.

So many simple, but complex things to figure out.

grade2
Grade 2- @PdaleGr2

 

At times, when I am wandering around my school and am able to observe the small interactions and lessons within the lessons, I am truly in awe of the patience required by these teachers.  Every day parents trust them with the most precious and important people in their lives.  Relationships and communication are key to students success.  Early years teachers really never get a break during the day.  When older students are working independently, teachers can find a bit of time to do some of their own work, but in early years, this does not happen.  The students require attention and support all day long.

kindergrade1
Kindergarten/Grade 1 @kinder1kids

 

I had one of my early years teachers ask me the other day, if I was going to be able to teach for  less time next year and have more administration time.  She felt that I had too much on my plate and had a lot to keep up with.  The fact that my teachers would worry about me or each other, did not surprise me.  That is just how we are as a team.  What struck me more, was the fact that I think what she does on a daily basis is way harder that what I do.

So much more goes on in early years that what most people might think.  So much more than curricular outcomes, so much more than math, ELA, science or social.  Learning about the world and how it works, learning how to feel good about ourselves, learning to understand and accept differences, learning that we can make mistakes and fix them, learning how to fight our own battles, learning how to be independent, and the list goes on and on.

So the next time you are talking to an early years teacher, please thank them for the hard work they do and especially for getting all of our young learners off to such a good start.

 

 

 

We Need You…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/7815007@N07/9484507128/

It is nice to be back to a sense of calm after what seems like two weeks of frantic meeting of deadlines and obligations.  Report card prep, reading through the reports and student led conferences are rewarding but exhausting activities.  I am forever in awe of my staff who takes it in their stride and always manages to finish the process with sharing stories of success that lie behind why we all continue to teach-student success and parent appreciation of our efforts.

I spent our two nights of conferences visiting with parents and touching base with as many middle-years parents as a could.  I do not usually meet with parents individually in my office on conference night unless the request comes from them, but this year I am wrestling with how to bring down a level of chaos and disrespect that is building in our middle years.  Earlier in the week I spent time talking with students and listening to their perspective about what was happening in our school.  I think it is important for students to know that the principal wants to listen to them and takes their input seriously.  I found out some very interesting things and was pleased at the maturity and insight of most of the students that I talked to.

I had many good visits with parents last week as I explained some of the things the students and teachers has expressed to me, as well as some of the things I have observed.  It is nice to be reassured that most of our parents were concerned and wanted to help in any way they could, just as I expected they would be.  I expressed to them that the best way they could help us was through supporting and being involved with their child.

I am a strong believer in teamwork when it comes to the growth and learning of children.  The stronger the team between school and home the better chance our students have to grow and develop into the confident, caring and informed change makers our world needs to have. Although we do not need research to tell us this, extensive research has shown the direct correlation between parent involvement and student success.

We all know we cannot change what has already happened.  It is the same as spending too much of our precious energy trying to control what we cannot control.  We need to concentrate on being present and creating change that will have a positive affect on the here and now and benefit our students going forward.

So I guess I just want our student`s parents to know how much we appreciate the effort they put in to the creation of our team.  Do not ever be afraid to question, to bring forth concerns or to offer your help and perspectives.  We need you to continue to be involved and we appreciate the things you do.

My Attitude Adjustment

http://www.flickr.com/photos/doremigirl/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/doremigirl/

Every week my brain gets fixated on one topic that I just can’t quite seem to get off my mind.  This week’s topic seems to be how to let go of the things we cannot control.   After another long week filled with office visits, parent communication (not always supportive or positive) and meetings, my general attitude lately has been kind of negative and feeling overwhelmed with my inability to solve issues.  I keep looking for a magic wand, but I have not found one yet, so I have come around to something I said myself a couple of years ago when talking to a fellow administrator about the state of affairs in her building- If you are not happy with the way things are, then fix it.

That sounds simple enough…just a minute I need that magic wand again …

I buckled down in the car yesterday on our way back from a hockey tournament to read a book written by Baruti K. Kafele, called “Closing the Attitude Gap”.  His general premise in the book, as it seemed to me, was to not settle when it comes to our students.  We need to hold them accountable and make them believe that they can accomplish great things by not giving them excuses.  Many of them come from lives that are not ideal and bring baggage of various kinds with them when they come to our buildings every day.  I know it is easy for us to slide into that mode where we start thinking all of these extraneous influences are overwhelming and we cannot fight against the tide.  It can seem that no matter what we do at times, it won’t matter that much.  Compound this with having large numbers of students in our classrooms, overwhelming curricular demands, assessments, report cards, conferences and the list can go on and on.

I have said many times to my staff, “we have to concentrate on what we can control and do what we can do to help these children for the hours they are in our care.”  Principal Kafele challenges everyone reading his book to take a long, hard look at ourselves and remind ourselves why we are teachers.  What made us become teachers in the beginning?  What do we want to accomplish as teachers?

If my attitude is negative, how will I ever have a positive affect on the staff and students in my building? I think it is time to start following my own advice.  I need to start with the things I can control such as my relationship with kids.  I can make a better effort to get to know them, build relationships with every student in the building.  Last week I had a conversation with a student who told me he was not comfortable telling me things because he had only had negative feedback from me.  First of all, good job on the part of that student for being so brutally honest with the principal,  because I know that wasn’t easy.  What he told me stung, but also moved me to change my attitude.  I will make a better effort with this student and many others in the building who I do not know well yet. Now that is something I can control and I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.

The other night I had a phone call from a parent after supper in the evening.  This parent works long hours and it can be difficult to reach her during the day.  I had sent a note home asking her to call me when it worked for her.  We had a great talk on the phone about her child and what he needed for support.  She was not aware of what a positive effect that conversation had on my state of mind at that time.   That is just it, isn’t it?  We can be unaware of what affect the smallest act can have on our students, both positive or negative.  Just as this parent lifted my spirits by what she said, she could have just as easily left me feeling down had she reacted differently.

Students need to know we care and will make an effort to get to know them.  We need to make their lives important, but not an excuse for bad attitude. We need to remind ourselves of the reasons we went into teaching to begin with.  We do not teach curriculum, we do not teach outcomes or subjects, we teach students.