Archive for April, 2015

Hard work can pay off

I was shared a powerful story in a video clip last night. A beautiful high school senior dear to my heart opened a letter that informed her of a scholarship that she was receiving. The scholarship from her elementary school was awarding the hard effort she put into school through her academic career and in celebration of her next journey into college. The shock and celebration of this amazing high school senior moved me to tears. Here is a child that I know has had to work so hard for every grade she has earned. She puts more effort than many students I have seen who achieve high academic success. The growth towards the achievement of high school graduation has been a mountain and journey. The family’s complete intentionality and support was imperative. And here I was able to watch through tear-filled eyes, her surprise and celebration to be able to say to people, “I got a scholarship.” What pride!

I then think about another story that one of our intervention teachers shared with me this week. Two students were sitting together having finished their work and preparing to return to class. One student who is newer to our school lamented that he just doesn’t get it. He shares how school was different before he came to Joyner. He admitted his struggles he was having. The other student who holds a large heart himself, just sighed, looked at him and stated, “You just learn differently.” This simple statement didn’t seem out of place to this other student. This from a student who has spent his school career challenged by learning. This from a student who I have watched build his confidence in learning his own way to process information. I believe this one statement tells a story of the work we do for students at Joyner.

Our children all learn in many different ways. Some children find some of the things we do simple and easy. They can engage in content deeply. Other students struggle. They have so much to learn it feels like a mountain sometimes. Sometimes those numbers just don’t make sense. Sometimes those strings of words offer no meaning. And yet, we welcome each learner into our building. We encourage and lift. We look for the special avenue that we can take to move each child forward. And along the way, we hope that our children see themselves as important in the process. We want them to be aware of their unique ways of learning.

How lovely to hear from one JYJ kid encouraging another. It may be hard sometimes, but it can be done. It can be done just a little differently. And beautiful to see that hard work of our kids can result in amazing moments down the road. I look forward to our JYJ students sharing their celebrations someday in the next steps in their lives. Keep working! Thank you to our intervention teachers and all those specialists who work tirelessly with our classroom teachers to make this work happen with honor and respect of our students.

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Be Present

It is that time of year that as I flip my date book pages setting meetings, making plans, I realize how little the number pages it takes to turn until we are at the end of the year. There are many things that we start reflecting on and making plans and decisions for next year. We start scheduling those annual end of the year meetings. I even sent out the call for input forms for parents for class lists for next year. Quite easily we can get caught up in looking ahead to next year, if we are not careful, and not look at our present in front of us.

Yesterday afternoon the buzz of the end of the day was starting to pick up. I walked up from the lobby towards the third grade hallway. I noticed students working in partners and independently with papers, boards and calculations. These students were from Ms. Kaswarra’s class. They were quickly checking with each other and moving around the space outside the office and into the hallways. I stopped a couple of students to ask about their work. They quickly explained and move back to work. I just smiled, leave it to our third grade teachers taking account of everyone moment of the day. I loved the idea that even as we counted down our minutes until dismissal, our teachers were engaging students in the present and in the learning.

This is a lesson for us all to hold fast to staying present. Absolutely the planning and designing for what’s next is important. What is also important while our students are with us each day is to stay in the present. We know the end of the year is coming with End of Grade tests and mCLASS assessments. We want our students prepared to show their successful year of learning. But we also want to keep them focused on the learning that we have in the present. It is April. And let us enjoy each present moment that we have together this school year!

Making Math Happen

Today I visited Kindergarten during math time. Math is a subject that takes the whole body. Kindergartens learn well when using their whole bodies. So put the two together, and there is a LOT of energy coming out of math time in Kindergarten. Our students find math to be a way to explore and play. They need their hands on objects. They use pictures and stories.

As I walked into Ms. Johnson’s room, students sat in groups doing different math activities. Ms. Johnson sat with a group planting gardens. She told the story of the different flowers they planted and then picked. Students worked out the addition of new flowers and the flowers that are taken away when picked. It was fun to watch as these gardens taught the students math.

In Ms. Wilkinson’s room, I saw similar movement in groups. She sat with a small group working out math with bugs. They collected bugs and then a fly swatter came along and swatted some bugs away. Again, the story behind the math problem allowed the children to visualize what actually is happening.
In both rooms, students were seeing math in the real world. They were picking flowers and swatting bugs AND they were subtracting!

Walking into Mr. Del’s room, they created bracelets that allow their little fingers work out math with the beads. Moving the beads around their bands help them create their own math problems.

A strategy I often use with learners who are overwhelmed and worried about math problems is to just hear the story that is being told. I direct my older students to visualize the actions taking place in the story. This helps them to know what actions they need to do. I enjoyed being in kindergarten today and seeing these action stories taking place. Students had their hands on flowers, bugs and beads. They were seeing the story behind the problem and were engaged in their learning.

How creative our teachers were in creating these hands on opportunities! How inspired was I to try to make my own stories with my own children and integrate that math!

Creating a Space of Belonging

This morning in the office, I welcomed a new family to Joyner. Having been one of those students once upon a time joining a class later in the year, I wanted to make sure they were greeted and welcomed. I reminded the family to connect with us with any questions as we started this new journey together.

In walking into classrooms first thing after my morning duty, I entered Mr. Jepsen’s second grade class. On the board, there was the typical welcome note for the day. In it, he included the welcome to a new student. He encouraged his students in how to best welcome and support the student in sharing the community of the class. Mr. Jepsen directed students to get up like every morning to start their day. A fun song began on the computer. Students began to dance and greet each other. He moved around the classroom welcoming each child. He made eye contact, laughed, and celebrated his students. The newest member of the class sat in awe of what was happening around him.

What a welcome! What a joy to be in a class that interacts with each other! I watched as children moved around to be sure to shake hands with each other. I was greeted with the same enthusiasm. I felt like I belonged. This atmosphere was so rich with a welcome. Immediately after the song, Mr. Jepsen jumped into the next directions for the day.

This type of buzz each morning I feel often in other classrooms across Joyner. I appreciate the rituals we create in our classrooms. I appreciate the sense of belonging created by all of the community.

Yesterday afternoon, one of our staff offered a session about her research work from her own professional growth. Staff came to learn from a colleague, but I also felt the sense of support of this member of the Joyner family. I was impressed how quickly the team of teachers who work in different corners of Joyner came together to discuss the topic presented. There was a feeling of closeness and ability to share ideas and thoughts. Ideas were questioned. In another brief moment, I felt that sense of belonging created by the people at Joyner.

Creating a space for belonging is essential in our work at school. I am grateful for our families who help in this gift. I am grateful to our teachers who guide and teach us all our part in building that sense of belonging. I am grateful to our students who live this every day. They may make mistakes in how to be friends or how to handle stressful moments, but I want them to know they always belong.

Beginning of 4th Quarter Classroom

Sitting this afternoon thinking about what to write, I think of my few minutes I just spent with Ms. Lewis and Ms. Pardo’s room this afternoon. (I know I am starting with a fifth grade story again for the second week in a row… but I must be feeling sentimental that these big kids are preparing to leave us soon!) Ms. Lewis had the attention of the entire group. She was wrapping up the day and wanted to leave the students with just one more thing. She shared a moving article that was shared with her last night. She shared her emotional response to the article from the night before. And then encouraged her students to really listen full heartedly to the lessons in the article. She expressed to her students to listen to words of grit and connection. She asked the students to reflect on the lessons learned from others. She celebrated their work for the day. She reminded them of the high expectations set for the remainder of the year. I watched the kids respond with such positive intent to her encouragement. There is so much more that we teach and learn at school!

Then my mind wanders to a first grade room that I visited first thing this morning. Ms. Wilson’s students were meeting with partners. They were using spinners and writing math facts. They talked with each other about what work they still needed to do and what they completed. I was so impressed to listen to these first grades talk and better yet, LISTEN to each other. I enjoyed standing there watching them debate on their work, look back, point out, explain and sometimes direct. These lessons again that we teach are beyond math facts.

As I sit and end my day, I enjoy the visit from a teacher. She shares with me a story of one young one that has been on a journey this year. The story is a celebration of how this child has really begun to see he is a part of the community of learners. He embraces the encouragement that once just ticked him off. The growth he has made in himself is in part due to the growth of the community around him.

It is that time of year that we shift to the last quarter. We know each other well in our classrooms. The community is set. Students know their teachers well. Teachers know their students. Expectations have been learned. And now they can show off these community skills!

I am so lucky to walk into classrooms daily and witness this growth and change. I love seeing how each classroom has matured as a group. We have one final quarter, and I am glad to watch how each classroom takes advantage of the strong community they have become.