Monday, June 5, 2017

Championships Are Won In The Off Season- Guest Blog by Sarah Van Brimmer

There’s a saying in football that championships are made in the off-season.  This couldn’t be more true for educators who are soaking up some much needed relaxation and downtime.  I have yet to meet a single educator who doesn’t pursue some kind of professional development or additional learning in the summer months.  And it’s no wonder.  All that down time has some serious benefits.  Educators’ brains are primed for reflection and making deep connections that build strong instructional leaders. As we pursue our goal of taking VBE all the way to an A, we are armed with stacks of books in our beach bags and mini-getaways embedded with Kagan strategies and Project-Based Learning.  

Here’s my personal summer PD goals:  

Fostering Resilient Learners:  Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom – I am totally in love with this book.  Not only will you learn about your students and how you can meet the needs of diverse populations – but you’ll also learn an awful lot about yourself.  This is a perfect summer read that’s not too heavy but will help you recharge your spark and connect to your “why.” I am hosting a Twitter slow chat beginning June 26 – so jump in on the fun and hear from the authors themselves!  

Poor Students, Rich Teaching:  Mindsets for Change by Dr. Eric Jensen: This is our schoolwide book study and I’m looking forward to seeing how this connects to last summer’s Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind.  Dr. Jensen is well-versed in the science behind the brain and learning but his books are practical, relatable, and easy to read.  

Conferring with Readers & WritersA webinar from Heinemann Publishing Company led by Carl Anderson and Dan Feigelson models how to implement student-led conferencing and goal-setting. I have watched the first session and I love the examples of real kids.  Carl Anderson is a rock star and manages to elicit a goal, teach a strategy, observe guided practice and give feedback in about 7 minutes.  #goals.  

About the Guest Blogger:

Sarah Van Brimmer is a Title 1 Literacy Coach at Vero Beach Elementary. She is a mother, wife, teacher, reader, & writer. She aspires to bring joy and magic to students through reading & writing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Striving for Progress, NOT Perfection

It's seven days until our kiddos leave us for summer.

With the end of the year in sight, it's hard not to reflect on the changes that have occurred at Vero Beach Elementary.

As a first year Principal, I find it incredibly rewarding to be in a learning environment committed to growing and stretching.  We've embraced our fail forwards this year, pushed ourselves and our students beyond expectations, and have fully embraced the reality of where our school was and the long road ahead.  However, I'm no where near the leader I aspire to be.

I'm spending my summer doing professional learning.  I'll be in Philadelphia growing my leadership skills at the National Association of Elementary School Principals, networking and sharing our story at the Florida Association of School Administrators, learning how to make our Project Based Learning Academy accountable and rigorous with the Buck Institute model, and honing in on how we can build on our tier-one instructional focus for next year.  Each year my goal is to improve as a leader and as a learner.

We recently recieved back the anonymous surveys our staff takes about their Principal and lead learner.  I'll be honest, it gave me quite the blow to my ego.  While I'm still dusting myself off, I'm excited to see where I have areas to grow in.  I'm committed to reading, honing my craft, and reaching out to others.  What I'm doing is...

I hope this is a model for our staff.  We are on our way.

Let me be perfectly honest, while we celebrate our successes along the way- we are not "there" yet.

While we've dropped discipline 82% at this point in the year, our behaviors still have a long way to go, but we will continue meeting the social emotional needs of our students and help our kiddos learn to regulate themselves and control the symptoms associated with high levels of poverty and trauma.  We also have to set in place learning environments that keep students challenged and engaged, this must be a non-negotiable.

Leading with love, caring about students, and sharing our stories of success does NOT mean that we ignore the realty of the obstacles that emerge each day... it means we are sharing our progress... not perfection.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Deeper Connections through Virtual Reality

Have you ever had an experience where you thought.... THIS... THIS IS WHAT'S MISSING IN EDUCATION?  Well, this has been in my thoughts a lot lately.  I feel like I've found an incredible way to build deeper connections at my school and I'm so excited to share it with the world. 

At the beginning of this year I set goals for myself as a lead learner, I made a vow to get into every single classroom to connect with our students at Vero Beach Elementary through read-alouds.  Inspired by so many Administrators that I follow on twitter and connect with on voxer, I knew I wanted to be a "Principal in Action" by walking the walk.  I refused to believe I needed to spend all of my day locked in my office.  I purchased the children's books recommended by colleagues and placed them neatly on my bookshelf in my office eager to begin my reading adventure.

I started off strong.  I reached out to the staff, created sign-ups outside my office, pleaded through our weekly principal press messages, and promoted the effort on twitter. 

Sadly, it fell short.

I'm swallowing a big piece of humble pie by sharing with you that it was a huge fail forward for me as I reflected on my goals mid-year.  After acknowledging my short-fall, I realized that I what I really wanted was a deeper connection, both to the students and the content areas being taught in each classroom.  We have worked on embedding technology at Vero Beach Elementary, but what was weighing heavily on me was:  What am I doing as the Principal to really model technology integration into my school? 

I found the missing piece, leading Virtual Reality Field Trips.

I ordered the Google Expedition Kit from Best Buy. 

Google Expedition Virtual Reality Kits

I had NO idea what I was getting myself into, but what better way to model risk-taking then to jump in.  Anyone who knows me understands that I'm not a patient person.  When they arrived, I was able to immediately get them up and running.  I couldn't believe how EASY it was (I promise I'm not being paid by google).  I was able to connect them and run an experience on them within 10 minutes! 

I began by trying them out with a group of students that I always use as my guinea pigs (thank you Ms. Rochon's 5th grade class).  They loved them and I immediately wanted to guide a field trip with every single class that I could find. The next day I shared them at the end of a faculty meeting with any teachers or staff willing to stay late to check them out.  I showed them how I can take the students through the experience and I invited teachers to explore the "google expedition" free app on their own and sign up for virtual reality field trips that organically connected to the science-based units they were teaching.

I began the content connected experience with Ms. Gonzalez' group of first graders that just began to study space.  I wasn't sure what to expect from first graders, but they were rockstar astronomers!

The excitement. 

The connections the students make to the content they are learning. 

The questions that come from these experiences, leading to curiosity and exploration.


THAT is what I'm in this career for.  Building intrinsic motivation into students so they have an incredibly passionate desire to learn. 

I recently had a colleague ask me how I can afford to block out an hour to get into classes to do this with kiddos.  My question is, how can I afford NOT to?

After doing this with classes across multiple grade levels I can tell you, every single student gains something from this opportunity.

Here are a few pointers for those of you willing to jump. 

1. Small groups of 10 or less works best
2. The devices get really hot and loses battery pretty quickly, don't plan on using them for more than two groups without having charging time and rest in between explorations.
3. Be very intentional in HOW you want the students to experience the field trip, explain even the simplest expectations
4. Use this as a way to model accountable talk strategies
5. Google Expedition has tiered questions that can help create incredible reflection throughout the experience.

When it comes to building connections, the small group environment and unique experience has been a catalyst to creating relationships with my kiddos at VBE.  I've never seen such gratitude and appreciation for learning.  I'm so blessed to have the opportunity to impact the educational experiences of so many students. I hope I never take that for granted by sitting in my office managing paperwork, there's plenty of time for the paperwork at night once my own kids fall asleep.

In the end, I hope I never lose my desire to take risks and connect with the content our teachers are teaching... but more importantly,  I hope I always find a way to make connecting with kids a priority!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Gratitude and Love to the Very Best Educators!!!

Here is a special treat- we secretly asked our VBE Little Indians to describe their teachers- here are the WORDLES that were created from what was in our students hearts.

Teacher Appreciation Week has just begun.
Here is a video that we made to show the impact our teachers are making at VBE! 

Thank you Very Brave Educators!

We can not say enough positive things about our incredible PTA at VBE that ensured that our teachers were taken care every single day... breakfast and lunch!  Our TRIBE can't be stopped.  It's so refreshing to have a parent group that completely understands the hard work and dedication our teachers put into VBE!!! 

One Hundred Years From Now Excerpt from “Within My Power” by Forest Witcraft

“One Hundred Years from now It will not matter what kind of car I drove, What kind of house I lived in, how much money was in my bank account nor what my clothes looked like. But the world may be a better place because I was important in the life of a child. ”
To top it all off- we have a week of excitement, treats, and appreciation set for our teachers.  

Monday Festivities!!!

Accupuncture- Ms. Castillo
Sebastian Yoga- Tobin
Chilis- Walters
Chilis- Brunson
Tubbys- Paulk
Singewald- $25
Massage Envy- Robinson


2 Free Movie Passes- Ms. Keeley
Chilis- Bechtel
Blue- Books a Million
McMillan- Sebastian Yoga
Fox- Tubbys Giftcard
Vickie Zita- 2 Free Movie Passes

Martin- Acupuncture
Ward- Massage Envy
Jason Banks- Starbucks
Sitkowski- Starbucks
Renninger- Chilis
Luccarelli- Sebastian Yoga
Erickson- Sebastian Yoga
Kachele- Massage Envy
Cordovano- 31 Gift Bag
Libby- Oil Change
Ragley- Vero Bowl Gift Card

Trumble- Tubbys
Fred- Starbucks
Browning- Oil Change
Cisneros- Vincents Pizza
Flethcer- Starbucks
Lasky Sebastian Yoga
Looney- Starbucks
Pasten- Yoga
Katherine Martin- yoga
Heidi Vaughn- Starbucks
Rochon- Paredolia
Blidgen- Massage

Chromie- Glass Vase
Glickstein- Waldos
Berwick- Starbucks
Miliman- chilis
Tracy Ruble- Yoga
Sanchez- Yoga
Segroves- Acupuncture
Fiori- Starbucks
Newhouse- Filling Station
Henry- Oil Change
Swink- Starbucks
Marine- Starbucks
Viladrosa- Massage
Newhouse- $25 Macs Filling Station

Thursday, April 6, 2017

It's a Journey

I've been reflecting a lot lately.

It's hard not to when you are at a school of transformation.  Yet, I sometimes forget where we were, as a school, just one year ago. I was assisted by facebook, of all things. Now typically checking social media becomes the abyss of overstimulation but the other morning something showed up immediately in my newsfeed, a message I wrote last year. I’m sharing it below.

I had to stop for a moment and let it sink in.  Was it only ONE year ago that we began the discussion about UNIT planning to best meet the needs of our little Indians?

 It was an incredible moment of reflection and encouragement.  

 While we are not there #YET we have come so far Little Indians in just one short year.  Our students are coming to school excited to learn, eager to share their understanding, and incredibly empowered to want to make a difference in the world.  We just celebrated that 175 students had PERFECT ATTENDANCE for 3rd quarter, that doesn’t happen on accident.  They are loving school because we are emphasizing the most important component… relevancy.  Our journey to STEAM integrated Units has only just begun… and look how far we have come!!!

  14 amazing educators with perfect attendance!

175 Students with Perfect Attendance! 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Am I Enough?

I write this blog post today from a place of humility and angst.

Around this time of year, most educators begin to question, "is this really right for me?"

It's not just the mandates and testing.

This week, it has hit me, hard.  The stress.  The urgency.  The importance.

It felt like the crest of a wave was going to come down upon me, swallow me up, and rip me out to sea.  The uncertainty of whether or not, "I'm enough," for this important role effecting hundreds of families in our community is weighing on me. The fear that if I say it out loud that it means I'm a failure to myself and my tribe. However, I can't stop obsessing over these three words...

I question, am I strong enough to fight the battle of poverty, racism, and cultural insensitivity that I see out in the world?  Can I somehow shield my students from the outside so that they feel safe, loved, and respected inside the walls of our building?  Am I capable of breaking down percieved stereotypes of disengaged parents, when I know from experience those parents aren't avoiding the school- they are working hard to ensure there is food on the table.  My familes value school, they just all can't be class moms and volunteer every day in the PTA, but they love their children just as hard and still want the very best for them.  Our families deserve each adult to give their all every day and sometimes we have to admit that we are drained.

I question, can I persevere through the struggles of medical leaves, untimely resignations, and trauma in the lives of my staff, let alone my students?  Can I make our students feel loved in those moments when they percieve they have been abandoned and left behind because they are "too tough" to handle?  How do I show them how special they are to even be a part of my life and how much I believe that they truly are the most incredibly resilient, brave, and strong children I have ever met?  How do I keep things consistent and moving forward when there are so many who leave us behind?

How do I help my teachers understand that while we are incredibly accountable and give feedback for improvement, that they are my idols and I value their heart and commitment to always doing what's best for kids. How do I show them a mirror so they can see the warrior I encounter every single day in them as they walk through the office,  determined to get through to each child.   It's hard to do this when we have students split into their classes each day as a last minute solution to a much deeper problem that I just don't have the ability to solve.

Am I patient enough to make every person's concerns feel valued.. while I have urgent situations that are eating me up inside that require my undivided attention and have me on the verge of tears because there is literally no way to make all stakeholders happy?

How do I hold it together as I hear stories of abuse, tragedy, homelessness, and trauma that some of my students go home to.  How do I help a substitute understand that the child she just yelled at might be ten years old, but he's responsible for keeping his mom and sister safe at home and has more adult responsibilities than any child should, and acts out for attention because he's just really crying out for help and love?

Can I jump through the hoops that require my extra time and attention in order to do what's best for my kids?  Will I be willing to continue fighting the fight and risking my reputation and relationship with those I respect that sometimes make situations more complicated and frustrating than they should be.  I can see why so many get tired and become complacent.  It's easy to do what's always been done and blame it on the system or the kids.  It's hard to breakthrough and make real change.

Can I personally break one more promise to my own children and family without them beginning to resent my passion for my school?    I'm looking out for the hundreds of kiddos that also need every ounce of strength and love I have in my body, and sometimes just need someone to sit with them as their rides show up over an hour late with no apology or explanation.  It's not the kids fault and it's hard to recognize.

Then I realize... I have to be enough.

We don't do this for the glory or the recognition, we do this for the kiddos.

Each and every student deserves the opportunity to succeed and excel.  If we don't do it, who will?

Who will ensure our students have exposure to robotics, computer engineering, virtual reality, gardening, and technology so they have the same opportunities for success?

We have to be enough and give ourselves a break.

I'm not perfect, but I love my school with every single beat of my heart and while I'll never stop wondering if, "I'm enough," there is one thing for certain, I'm all in every single day.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Power of Focus- Guest blog by Sarah Van Brimmer, VBE Literacy Coach

I recently had the opportunity to participate in two incredible professional development sessions.  As a district literacy coach we participated in a six-day foundational literacy training presented by Voyager Sopris that centered on Scarborough’s Reading Rope.  Then, the amazing Leann Nickelsen visited our school for three days of professional development on formative assessment.  

As I was reflecting on the big ideas and how they relate to my current pedagogy I was struck by an amazing insight.  When we aren’t getting results we are generally focused on the “distractors” or blanket generalizations. Kids didn’t perform because  they didn’t stay focused, they had trouble reading the font {yes, someone really said that}, they don’t have enough vocabulary, etc.  

Instead, we need to feed our focus.  

Let’s reflect on our instruction and ask ourselves the following questions:  

• Are we focusing on the right things?  
• What gaps in foundational knowledge do students have?  
• How are students being asked to demonstrate mastery?  
• Does our practice mirror our assessment?  

This is especially important in foundational literacy.  In order to progress through the stages of word reading and language development there are very critical milestones and learning targets that must be met.  Before we can expect students to decode automatically and efficiently, they need to be able to associate letters with sounds, and eventually recognize patterns that make syllables and words . If we get stuck in any of the foundational phases, word decoding will falter and hamper the rest of the process. The same is true with mathematical processes – you cannot multiply before you learn to add efficiently.  

So in our fast-paced race to state testing season, I’m committing to slow down and narrow my focus.  What are the most essential skills my students need?  What gaps in foundational knowledge can I fill?  How is my practice mirroring how my students will be expected to demonstrate mastery?  

This isn’t always easy – but it reaps big benefits.  So tribe tell me -- What feeds your focus?  How do you tune out the distractions to focus on just the essentials?  

Guest Blog
Sarah Van Brimmer
Literacy Coach at Vero Beach Elementary