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The Super Powers of Teachers

Today was really an ordinary day at Joyner. We started our day in a staff meeting. These are always amazing moments to learn together and from each other. We also took the time to pause and consider the work that we do each and every day. I shared with the staff how powerful they each are in the work they do. The staff celebrated the powers in each other as well. Some of us even dressed in our super hero mode just to bring some fun into the day.

As I look at the rest of the day that was completely filled, I am amazed at the amount of celebrations I could share through Twitter in the work of our teachers. I didn’t even realize how many times I sent a tweet of superpowers in action today. It is amazing that I can walk into classrooms and catch so many powerful things happening.

I encourage you to take a moment and check it out. But I also couldn’t quite capture it all. Ms. Lewis’ class was incredible as they made the connections and thought critically of the Uncle Sam stories and moments of patriotism in our history. Ms. Duncan talked about her students who begin to see that the world is bigger than Raleigh and share with their parents the stories and culture they learn from their Spanish teachers. Ms. Gourley celebrated the intensity and pride of our fourth graders as they prepared to dance the Tango tomorrow. Fourth grade classes were proud to share the plays they had created about a book that has moved them in so many ways. Ms. Pelletier’s class discuss the books they read and how they as authors themselves want to determine what they want to communicate with their readers. Mr. Poyer’s class prepared for action by noticing their whole body stance. Smiles on faces all around. On and on, my day was filled with the incredible work our children are engaged in at Joyner.

I know many of us see those big moments, the projects that wow us as they walk in, the reports students give, etc. But I also notice the small moments of learning that our teachers work with our students everyday on.

Thank you teachers for your superpowers that you extend to our children. And students, I am thrilled to see how you are building your own superpowers of the mind as well.



Learning about the Work

A group of teachers have been meeting on Tuesday mornings before school starts working together through a text on literacy instruction. The text is Who’s Doing The Work by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris. The conversations so early in the morning are truly incredible. Teachers from multiple grade levels share ideas, talk through challenges and attempt new strategies. As we learn together, the facilitators have provided conversation starters and videos to engage us further. Each week, we commit to work to try. I have enjoyed taking part in this learning to engage further students in literacy.

As you can gather from the title, the text engages us in thinking about placing the work of learning truly into the hands of children. We are challenged to give the time and focus to our children to engage in thinking. The idea of placing the work into the hands of our children seems so simple and yet for teachers who are so driven to move our children, it can feel challenging.

This past week we discussed giving time for intellectual dissonance to our students. We want to engage them into thinking deeply without quickly jumping in to rescue to take over. As the principal, I recognize that I am not spending my whole days in one classroom working with a group of children. But I do find myself in classrooms as often as possible. I often stop to talk with students, learn about what they are learning, and encourage. I realize that sometimes I don’t spend length of time with one student when watching the work in the class. So after our conversation, I decided to give the time to engage in that intellectual dissonance that we were discussing. I wanted to feel that struggle and see what happens. I visited a second grade class while they were making comparisons of fiction and non-fiction text. I noticed a student who was doing his best to not draw attention to the fact that he wasn’t getting much thinking down on his paper. As I walked over to talk, he waited to see how I was going to help and give him the answers he was seeking. I swallowed that need to rescue and instead began to ask the questions and waited for him to think through the answers. I reminded him of his courage to proceed. And after a few minutes, he began to do the work. He stepped over his nervousness of doing the wrong thing and really started to capture his thinking.

I share all of this because I know as parents, we also feel such a sense of rush to do for our children. We want to help get them to the answers. But I wonder if we allowed our children to think things through and really make those efforts, how much more they will truly learn. It takes time. It takes courage. But I believe the growth that our children will make in building their own minds will be worth the work.

Restorative Circles

Earlier this year, I wrote about the circle practice many of our classrooms are experiencing this year. I also talked about how the adults in our school use circle practice to build stronger adult relationships as well. In the last week, I have found myself sharing more about our restorative circle work with parents and others. I want to share again what this practice is about.

When you consider the idea of restoration, many times one might think of antiques receiving restoration to look new again. It is an idea of putting things together or rebuilding. I also think of the concept of doing something with care.

Circle practice at school begins with building relationships. Circle practice takes time and takes care. Our students and teachers sit together and learn about each other. Students share ideas and share about themselves. And students also listen. Through guiding questions, a teacher can begin to build a class community. Students begin to see their classmates as the individuals they are. And during this time, teachers can support conversations to problem solve issues or challenges that crop up in a classroom community.

As we prepared for our Student Led Conferences last week, I listened to students reflect on the circle time in their class. Students provided intuitive reflections on their ability to listen growing. Students enjoy hearing about each other. And students feel safe to also share. Students are learning to communicate with each other. The words and responses students have given can be powerful. Students feel a greater desire to be at school because of these stronger feelings of community.

When I navigate students who might be in conflict, I also have found myself working through the process of restorative practice. Our students learn to speak up for themselves and share their voice. We sit together to problem solve issues. I leave these conversations more hopeful that we have some strategies to put into place for everyone.

This work is not the only solution, but I see our culture of community that is so important to the fabric of Joyner continue to grow and deepen through the work of circle. The connections that students make with their peers and their teacher become even more valuable. When discussions arise at different points of the day of learning, the language they are learning in circle to listen and respond come out. When a student is in trouble, other students support with offering words to encourage or just breathe.

It is my hope that our students find an eagerness to come to school to learn because they are in a safe place where they can be heard and can be noticed. Using our skills in restorative practice, builds that sense for us all. It takes time and work and care. But I believe it is the direction that we need to take.



Invitation to the JYJ 5K

This past weekend while at my daughter’s middle school, I ran into several JYJ alum. (Side note: I LOVE watching our children continue to grow. I enjoy celebrating who they are continuing to become. I am grateful to meet these students wherever I go and hear their continued stories.) While we chatted, they quickly told me that they would see me this next weekend for the JYJ 5K. With that came my inspiration to write to everyone tonight with an invitation in mind.

Our Joyner 5K is an annual event that celebrates being healthy as a community. If you wonder could your young kinder really make it 3.2 miles? I will tell you absolutely yes. And that brings me to the reason to join us. The motivation to step forward comes from the community that comes out. We have JYJ alum of all ages that stand along the race course who cheer and celebrate all students. There are tons of parents who encourage along the way. The positive spirit along the race course compares to no other.

Then the inspiring bigger kids who truly can race that course wiz by, and it is exciting to see their heart as they work together to accomplish that top prize. It is fun to see the parents who also get into the spirit and take the tempo to the next level.

The JYJ 5K has a place for everyone. Strollers of little ones munching on their crackers, watch the big kids. Parents begin to connect and meet and talk along the way. Professional runners join the fun because of such a positive atmosphere. And then there are teachers that enjoy the afternoon in a relaxed setting with their students and perhaps their own children.

I know I am excited to once again dress as a book character to celebrate accomplishing our book drive goal. Thank you to kindergarten for selecting the book character. Ms. Burton also looks forward to hearing what fourth grade chooses as her book character.

The Joyner 5K is a family event. All are welcome. If the idea of the length worries you, please join us along the route cheering on our JYJ family. I know you will feel lifted and walk away with a lighter step after being at this special event. I look forward to seeing everyone on the course!

Welcome to the JYJ Family

This morning we held our Magnet Welcome event. This is an opportunity to welcome those families that selected Joyner during the magnet application time and were accepted. It is an exciting moment to sit with folks that have taken that journey of visiting and making a magnet choice for the school they want their children to attend. After a visit to the kindergarten classrooms, our newest Jaguars visited the cafeteria. We asked several fifth graders to reflect and share memories from different grade levels at Joyner. They also shared what they like best about being a Joyner kid. Throughout the sharing, the stories of family came up from our students. They talked about finding friendships, being recognized for being themselves and the relationships they have built at Joyner. As the principal, it was moving. And most staff sitting in the event also found sweet tears.

After leaving this gathering, I happened on the playground. One of our young first graders spoke with his teacher sharing a story of another classmate who was struggling. He immediately stated that he needed a friend and he was ready to be one. This young one quickly shared that being a friend could be like having more family. How amazing I thought that even our first graders see the power of connection that we can build at Joyner.

By midday I walked into our Spanish team classroom during their planning. There was literally a hum from sewing machines, sizzle of irons and swirl of movement. Our Spanish team was in the midst of preparing costumes for Pieces of Gold and for our visit from guest dance artists through the United Arts Council. They were laughing and working hard. It was magnetic and I couldn’t help but join in for a bit pitching in where I could. The respect and collegiality were overwhelming. Even as an adult team, this family “feel” spread throughout the room.

I know it takes more than words to build a school family. And as I shared with our newest members this morning, it begins with each of us taking that time to connect and build relationships. I look forward to our newest members and I continue to treasure our building work that we do every day at Joyner.

100 Days! What?

In the very filled moments of life, I was surprised when our students walked in today with celebration in mind as they recognized 100 days of learning for this school year. How did we get here so quickly? I have always talked about how living life in an elementary school is fast. Our ten months with children really fly. I start to notice when they return in January that their legs seem a bit longer, the heads seem to be held up more, the faces mature. I sometimes have to stop and think about what grade a student is in because time just flies.

Our students are the focus of our work at school. And to consider our days, we might have taught for 100 days but now we only have 80 left. Our teachers gear up for some great teaching and learning in the next months. We feel every moment seems to slip away and don’t want it to not be tied to something that gave greater learning or connection for our students.

Sitting with the first semester done, we want to emphasize the support of the parents in helping our children grow at least a year. Reading at home, completing homework, strong attendance are just a few things. We also think about what we are doing in the classrooms. We are excited to meet all together one last time this year on an early release day this Friday. We will look deep into our mid-year data and lay out the plans for this second part of the year.

I am excited to see how minds will grow. I am grateful for the relationships that we have built. And proud of the growth we are making. Well done students. Let’s enjoy these next few moments in the 80 days ahead.

Stop, Take a breath And Relax

I listened to someone today talk about breath. She shared that when there is tension, taking a breath helps us replace that tension because there is no room for both. That made me think about breath. I find when a student is having a rough moment, my first response begins with breathing. I take those moments to just inhale and exhale.

We do a lot of “breathing” at Joyner. Many of our teachers take the time to teach the idea of breath. We help students see that just in our breathing, we can help to begin to regulate how we are feeling and pause before we respond. Teachers use the tools of STAR (Stop, Take a breath And Relax) breathing as a reminder to take a breath, take a pause. We teach the balloon breathing, my favorite. Filling our balloon arms and then making a wonderfully loud blowing out sound to empty our balloons. We pretzel and drain. All of these ways help our students build tools to calm and focus.

I think of many times as adults we need to stop and take the breath. When our little one has a hard moment and yet need to find the courage to step forward, we breathe for them. When we are in the midst of tough conversations, we take a pause and a breath. I listened so often when our spellers took that moment before attacking those words in the recent Spelling Bee. I appreciate the work that our staff takes in teaching our students and providing them tools. We cannot always remove the stresses in life, but we can offer some strategies to help navigate it. When we face those moments of tests or making up with a friend, drawing on a breathing strategy helps us through.