Saturday, August 4, 2018

Create the Magic!!!

I’m so lucky to be a part of some incredible learning networks through Twitter, Facebook, and Voxer.  Administrators from around our nation share ideas through these outlets and keep each other inspired and focused on doing what’s best for kiddos.  What is amazing is, every lead learner is committed to growing!

An inspiration of mine is a fellow “Moms as Principal” leader,  Lynn Colon, who believes there is tremendous power in bringing the Disney magic and business philosophy to schools. Check out her article here:  Your Guide to Running a School Like Disney World  Our theme this year is, “if you can dream it, you can do it.”  We believe that making experiences for our kiddos will change the game!

We have committed to “bringing the magic,” to Vero Beach Elementary!  A focus of ours is; how we can create amazing learning experiences for kiddos?

We can start by creating opportunities to build relationships with our amazing teams!

Today, 60 staff members met in the orange groves on a Saturday, thanks to Learning Alliance of Indian River County and Hammond Groves, for our annual staff retreat!  For three hours we embraced team building, set our non-negotiable for planning, literacy, and STEM, and had a little Disney fun sprinkled in.

It’s all about serving our guests with amazing learning experiences, which starts by serving our learning experience designers with opportunities to build magical relationships!

Here are some typical questions I get about the retreat:

1. How do you pay for the VBE swag?
     Our PTA helped sponsor the staff shirts, sunglasses, and hats!  We also had other local businesses join in!

2.  How do you provide breakfast and lunch?
     We build partnerships in the community!  We are lucky to have an amazing relationship with Valic who provides all of our food today.  Bonus, they come out to the retreat and help our staff create plans for their retirement and savings!

3.  What activities do you do?
     Our tribal council plans games that are all given point value for the winning.  We also set a “Goosechase” scavenger hunt, using the free app, that is part of a school-wide competition.  This year the winning team will each get $100, per person, to build up their classroom libraries!!!
     Games-  sponge relay, plank contest, hula hoop contest
     Challenges- Disney themed handshake, movie scene challenge, and lip sync contest.

In all reality, it’s a great way to sprinkle some pixie dust to start our year!

One vibe.  One tribe.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Early Learning Excellence!

As a working mom and principal, I’m rarely home.

The honest truth is that I would like to think that because of how much I truly value education and opportunities for kiddos, that I spend an enormous amount of time with my own boys teaching them foundational skills and reading to them every night.  The truth is, I don’t.

I don’t always have the time.
I don’t always have the energy.
Sometimes I hand my boys my phone.
Sometimes I allow the TV to engage them during dinner.

However, I’ve been extremely lucky to have an amazing team behind me, ensuring that their needs are met.  On a recent family trip, that became incredibly obvious.

As we were driving down to Islamorada in my truck, my five year old spent part of the trip counting to 100, rhyming words, asking questions, asking us to quiz him on letter sounds in words... he wanted us to interact with him with what he learned this summer.

You see, he has been a part of an incredible program offered by Indian River County called, Step into Kindergarten.  Through generous donations, grants, and local support our incoming title-one kindergartners are given an opportunity for a summer learning experience to prepare them for entering school.  I was absolutely blown away by the growth the kiddos made at VBE as a principal and lead learner, but it hit even harder when I was able to watch my own child leave this summer as an emergent reader.

I want every single child to come into elementary school feeling this confident, proud, and eager to share what they are learning.  I’m so thankful to live in a community that values this, that realizes funding programs like STEP into K, will lead to future success for our children.

Thank you Karen Malits for organizing this, monitoring it, and for ensuring our kiddos are given opportunities to find success before entering Kindergarten!

Thank you Cynthia Falardeau for being an incredible asset to our district, your devotion to our students is something that I value and treasure. You are one of the reasons why our District has and will remain successful!

Thank you Brooke Flood, for organizing and running an incredible pre-K program!  Our families rave about the learning and opportunities given to their children that set them up for outstanding results!

On a proud principal note, we were lucky enough to have two and a half classes of students from my school alone participate in the program.  Over 40 students at Vero Beach Elementary will enter our learning environment ready to take on the challenges and rigor!  Our Little Indians are ready to thrive!

Thank you to all the sponsors, donors, and grants that make programs like this available to our kiddos.

Your investment in our community doesn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated.

STEP into K

Friday, July 6, 2018

5 Steps to Increase Self-Care as a Principal.

We've all seen the leaders that pride themselves on the, "celebration of busy."  Those who come early, stay late, and share the chaos of the day and late hours they have put in at work, with the world.

That was me. I wore "busy" like a badge.

I think we all perpetuate this notion that busy is better, as we drive across Florida and see the school buildings in the dark, with the administration and educator spots still filled, using this to measure how hard we work to maintain success in our buildings. The reality is, I do tend to over-value the idea that being busy, staying later, and over-committing is something that should be recognized and respected.  As a principal, I have made the vow to discontinue this practice and I will start celebrating the self-care of myself and my staff.  I noticed as the years in administration added on, so have the pounds, caffeine, missed meals, and deflated dreams of getting to the gym.  This summer, however, I decided to re-commit, to myself.

I can't pour from an empty cup and my family and I deserve for my cup to be filled with self-love!

My job is not getting any easier, however, here is how I built self-care into my daily routine.   

1. Practice "Unplugging" Daily.

I have become a fan of the digital morning detox!

If you're anything like me,  your inbox is filled in the morning with emails and updates.  Add on social media notifications and it can feel like you're drowning before you have even fully opened your eyes.  My old practice was to lie in bed and scroll through the emails, answer the ones that seemed urgent, plan my day based on my calendar, and set priorities for what needs to be accomplished.  This usually led to me scrolling through social media, and before I know it, thirty minutes has been wasted.  All of this took place before my feet ever met the carpet next to my bed.  The first hour of the day sets your intentions for the rest of your day.  I'm working on not plugging in for the first half hour using this time to practice gratitude, stretch, and walk the dog.  Grabbing a cup of coffee before even considering touching my phone has been quite the daunting task, but I have found this to be the most rewarding practice of self-care.  What I've learned is, I deserve this time to set my focus.  The emails can wait.

2. Engage In Daily Exercise Or Mental Breaks

I must admit, I was in denial of how out of shape I was.  After finally committing to joining a boxing gym, I have found that I'm much more alert and energized throughout the day.  Start small and set your intention for what works for you. I realized that I was letting excuses get in the way of practicing self-care.  Once I got realistic about when and where I could squeeze in workouts, I found that everything worked itself out.  

3. Enjoy Rest And Solitude

I'm not a particularly patient person.  Even in moments where I should be relaxing, I find my head begins to spin with things that are not relevant.  Anxiety for the future gets the best of me.  I found that "enjoying rest" was much harder for me than it should be.  This has been where I've asked my family to help.  When we take mini-vacations, stay-cations, or extended time off; I've asked them to remind me to stay present.  When I start to focus on school, they are there to pull me back into living in the moment with them.  I've learned that I need to ask for help where I have areas to work on.

4. Extend My Professional Learning Network

I found that so many ideas that I wanted to implement on my campus have already been done on other campuses across the nation.  Instead of starting from scratch, by building up my personal learning network, I get support and resources from other administrators.  This has saved me so much time!  

My question for my readers is:  Why are you still not on Twitter?  What is stopping you from joining other passionate lead learners across the country?  Joining Twitter and participating in educational chats has led to some of the best professional development that I've ever been a part of.   Once you find your tribe, find other ways to connect and grow your network. These are a few groups on twitter that I would highly recommend you following. 



5. Encourage Self-Care Of Your Staff

Here it is.  By celebrating my self-care, I encourage others to do the same.  It gives permission to the entire staff to get healthier, mindful, positive, and energized.  We all need the reminders that we need to fill our cups when we are constantly filling that of others.  

We will be starting a  @verobeachelem self-care tweet!  Summer is halfway over and I want my staff to share how they are enjoying their time.  I plan on purchasing a pedicure certificate and raffling it off to our winner!!!!

In the end, by writing this and committing to this I will be able to hold myself accountable to the small changes that will lead to me being a healthier, more productive, and well-balanced leader of the VBE VIBE.  

Friday, June 29, 2018

Letter To My Students...

Dear Vero Beach Elementary students,

I'm writing all of you to let you know how PROUD I am of your hard work this year. The State of Florida releases school grades each summer that don't always show the true impact that has been made on a campus.  We had a setback this year, and dropped a letter grade, missing the "C" by just 2%.  We will not let this define who we are!  We will grow stronger, work harder, and thrive.  We have made our best efforts with our lowest students to make gains, and we fell just short as a school, which cost us the momentum we have built in so many other areas.  However, this will not change our course and our destiny.  We are Little Indians, and this is just part of a bigger journey that we will take together on our way to an "A!"

Do not let this school grade discourage you.  Hold your head up high Little Indians, because you accomplished amazing things this year, including going up on the Science FSA and increasing in reading.  Just know there is so much that was not measured on that particular test, on that particular day.  For example, our entire school showed over a year and a half of growth through our iReady diagnostics in reading!  Our fourth grade accomplished almost 2 years of growth alone!  We read over 10 million words, just in the month of April. Our tribe has become a literacy legend and we will continue our love of reading into next year.  Our math proficiency on iReady went up 10% and we are building the foundation for huge gains next year.  You also surpassed the goal of doing 5,000 acts of kindness in just 15 days and earned our school the honor of being recognized as the school of the month by the national Think Kindness organization.   You were recognized as one of only twenty schools nationwide doing innovative activities to earn us a grant from Crayola to continue our project based learning.  YOU are more than a test!

What that score does not show is the change in our school climate.  Each day we start off giving high fives, fist bumps, and hugs to start us off strong.  As we enter our classes we share our Pledge of Allegiance and our Kids at Hope pledge.  The test score will not show that we believe, now more than ever, that we are talented, smart, and capable of success.  Remember, a test will not measure your potential!

What the letter grade will not show is that we have become a campus of caring and kindness.  We have lowered our discipline, learned to self-regulate, built meditation and social skills training for those of us that need extra reminders, and have become a true tribe of compassion.  It will not show how many students open doors for others, help each other when we are down, hold each others hands when we are scared, or comfort each other when we are sad.  The test doesn't show how many students are now earning our awesome PBIS glow parties and exciting celebrations we have each month.  They certainly don't show the fun that comes along with the improvements here at Vero Beach Elementary.

The letter grade will not show the great sportsmanship, hard work, and dedication that was put into our athletic programs, like the track meet that you participated in.  It doesn't show how you set goals and accomplished them through focus and determination. It will not reflect how many of you I saw consoling friends, cheering on other schools, and helping each other out at the basketball tournament.

The test will not show how so many 5th graders chose to challenge themselves this year by starting band in 5th grade.  It doesn't recognize how many of you are finding paths now, through exploration and choice, to passions that will lead you to life long learning.  It doesn't represent the amazing triumphs I witnessed as you explored technology, learning about coding, ozobots, spheros, virtual reality, bee-bots, and Lego robotics.

Finally, the test scores will not ever show the amount of love on our campus.  Our teachers and staff truly care about each and every single one of you.  We recognize you are more than a test score.

Students, I want you to know that as a principal, I'm committed to making this the best school in the entire district.  Your teachers and I are spending time this summer learning and growing while you are on break.  We are committed to constantly improve so you can get the best education as possible, regardless of your zip code, income level, or current situation.  As a kid who went to Title-One schools myself, I will tell you that this grade is just one measure of a school, but does not reflect potential of the kids for becoming successful in life!  We will show the entire community that we are one tribe, committed to VBE!

Students, hold your heads up high and say it proud, "Who are we?  VBE!  On our way, to an A!"  This setback will only lead to a stronger COMEBACK!  Please ask you parents to join us in our school-wide engagement pledge, VBE 180.  We need the entire community to support the long term turn-around of our school, starting with every family committing to bringing you and your classmates to school 180 school days, on time, and ready for the incredible learning that we have taking place.  We will make a 180 by a true collaboration!  Families and TRIBE unite this upcoming year as we set our place as THE top school in the district.  We CAN and WE WILL do this.

Most Sincerely,
PROUD Principal
Cindy Emerson

Friday, June 22, 2018

5 Steps to Engage Families in Developing Our School Improvement Plan Goals

It is always my intention to lead with honesty, integrity, and full transparency.

As a learning environment, we felt compelled to share our data and create a parent and community deep data dive. We focused on the following 5 Steps to Engage Our Families In Developing Our School Improvement Plan Goals. 

Step 1. Invite the Families Into the Process

It sounds so simple, but so many of our parents shared that this is the first time they have ever been invited to a school during the planning stages of the upcoming year.  We want our families to be a true partner in the experience at Vero Beach Elementary, so it's vital that they feel valued and a part of decision making. Just by asking them to come to our school through social media and our weekly connect message, we were able to get a cross section of our families to our campus.  We advertised the event as a coffee talk and deep data dive and they showed up!

Step 2.   Determine the Shared Values 

 As a principal, it's important for me to listen to what my families want for their child's education. The skills our parents value were shared at our meeting.  These attributes are so much deeper than something that can simply be measured by a standardized test.  Here are just some of the qualities and skills our families shared that they felt were necessary for their children to be successful in life.  This helped us determine our focus to ensure that we are moving in a direction that matches the values our families desire.

Social Skills
Good work ethic
Design Thinking
Civic Duty
Ability to advocate for themselves
Career driven
Confidence and self-esteem empathy

Step 3.  Share the Data With the Families and the Community. 

Be raw, be real, and be honest.  Sharing the true picture of what is taking place isn't always easy. However, the true reality will help create action and get multiple points of view on what can be improved upon.  We saw that our parents have incredible insight.  We showed them the trends that have been taking place on our campus over the past 5 years, the most recent academic and behavioral data, our projection of our school grade, and a deep look at what should be celebrated out in the community and a look at what should be an opportunity for improvement next year.


As we discussed the importance of math and literacy fluency, our parents became even more empowered.  They WANT to know how to help and they want to hear ways that they can support what is taking place at school.  Our literacy coach, foundational literacy support, and math coach did data shares and break out sessions.  Our families left with resources they can use at home; including apps, games, flash cards, and strategies to increase their child's fluency.

Step 5. Share the Story

If you don't share what is going on at your school, someone else will!  Take time when you invest in your families and community to share that message.  Hopefully by shining light on the collaboration and partnership it will encourage other families to dive in too.

After sharing a message on Twitter, one of our families retweeted it too.  We are so lucky to have parents that are so deeply committed to our school!

What worked?

As a school, we allowed ourselves to be humble and honest about our data.  We knew that we needed to bring in our stakeholders to create action.  We invited every single parent to come to the school to digest the data with us and come up with our school improvement plan goals TOGETHER.

That's when it really hit us, we can't do this alone.  We need our families involved on a much deeper level then we have involved them in the past.  We need them to help  us understand the barriers they are up against and we need them to  understand what it will take on an individual basis to truly turn this school into an environment of innovation.  We need our families.

The result was something I can only describe as magical.  Our parent partners that came listened to us share our data, helped us problem solve and determine goals for next year, and stayed to hear ways they can support math and literacy at home.

Working together, the school improvement plan goals 
will continue to align with our District's Strategic Plan:

1.  Increase student achievement by improving instruction in all areas.
2.  Increase family and community engagement at Vero Beach Elementary

Finally our parents, students, and staff helped us develop some ideas on how to increase parent participation at school. We agreed that this will need to be a joint effort to help our students reach their true potential.  Some of the ideas shared were:

1. Being more intentional about getting the information out about the programs that already exist.
2. Take a bus into the community and deliver books and ice cream to our families to increase literacy.
3. Start a "Rad Dads" task force to bring more men into our school.
4. Send connect messages with information about events that are coming up a week in advance AND the day of the event.
5. Room parents program.  Parent Buddy List with a "text tree."
6. Adult English speaking classes for our parents.
7. Start a parent outreach program.
8. Utilize competition in classes to increase parent participation, classes with overall increases earn prizes.

In the end we are committed, as a tribe, to do whatever it takes for our students at Vero Beach Elementary!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Kindness Revolution at Vero Beach Elementary

We were a part of a national movement here at Vero Beach Elementary this year... focusing on kindness to improve our school!!!!

Think Kindness

It all starts with a challenge from the kindness ninja!!

Our students DOMINATED the challenge, and Brian Williams came through with Brick Breaking!!

Our KIDDOS then took it to the next level. Check out how our VBE second grader, Gary Parris shared his message of kindness.  His speech made it to the top ten in the national conference.  Please check it out here.  If you are viewing this prior to June 4th, please take a moment to vote for him too!

Gary Parris' Kindness Video!

Let's show everyone across the nation that ONE kid can CHANGE the world!

VBE has been chosen as the Think Kindness School for the month of May!!!


Think Kindness School Very Beach ElementaryWe visit so many each month and each school is so incredible inspiring!
This month we are recognizing Vero Beach Elementary, located in Florida, as our school of the month. They achieved 7,183 acts of kindness in just 15 days. WAY TO GO!! We asked their principal, Cynthia Emerson to share with us her experience with participating in the Kindness Challenge.
Q: Why is it important to you and your school to instill kindness in today’s culture?
A: It’s important to instill kindness in today’s culture so that students have the intrinsic motivation to continue it as they move forward in the future.  We feel that shaping our society by creating kind and caring individuals is one way to help improve the entire world.  We truly believe one kind act can lead to a powerful ripple effect!
Q: Why did you bring Think Kindness to Vero Beach Elementary?
A: At VBE we believe your “vibe attracts your tribe.”  Part of our message that we share daily is that we “inspire others.”  However, the barriers are exhausting that are student face.  They deal with deep generational poverty, trauma, and a mind-numbing level of obstacles.  Our goal is to show them how being kind can lead to a breakthrough.

Q: What project or activities do your teachers do to create a more positive school culture?
A: We are a positive behavior support school.  We are daily embracing kindness through our morning meetings, brain breaks, and “wampum” positive acknowledgement.  We have built a strong partnership with the Vero Beach Elks who support our program by running a full school store, only the currency they use is earned through positive behavior following our VBE VIBE.

Think Kindness School Very Beach ElementaryQ: We challenged your school to do the kindness challenge. What types of kind deeds did you see take place in your school?
A: We had a family completely embrace the challenge.  They alone created a “positive message” campaign and created over 800 notes for our entire student body and staff.  One of our 5th grade classes spent the morning being “sneaky ninjas” writing personalized messages on every single window of our school for the staff members.  Students were caught putting sweet messages in backpacks, going out of their way to show appreciation to students and staff, and were quick to help comfort friends that were “down.”

Q: What kind of responses have you received from parents or community?
A: A school board member happened to come by during the assembly.  She was so blown away by the message after conferencing with students that she posted a video of them speaking on twitter and facebook.  We are super excited about the positive attention it has brought to our school.

Q: What suggestions would you have to another school taking part in the campaign to help ensure it is a ‘home run’?
A. Dive in head first!  Be prepared to get the staff fully invested, the more they participate, the more the students do.

Q: Anything else you would like to share?
A. We loved it!

Also…. our founder, Brian Williams promised to break some bricks if they achieved their goal. Well, they broke their goal 🙂

Think Kindness

Diving Deep into Rigorous Project Based Learning

With the data rolling in from our first two pilot programs for Project Based Learning, we are excited to see that it is taking our belief that authentic learning experiences offered to students will help them become collaborative, creative, critical thinkers, with an opportunity to meet the rigor of our state standards.

Here are some of our highlights that will be featured on the CreatED Webinar with Education Week.
Please register here:
CreatED Registration

We are spending time this summer looking into the future to what characteristics, skills, and traits we want our students to have when they leave in high school?
What problems will our students solve in the world?

The reality is, we want all doors to be open for our students to create real change in the world.  Our resilient learners are full of potential and if we don't give them the opportunity to showcase their learning and develop the skills to communicate effectively, we must face the reality that we are not serving our students with fidelity.

Last year we began this journey with two teachers and one administrator taking on the training to create two co-teach classrooms.  This year we sit together with the entire Kindergarten team, two members of first, three members of second, three members of third, a fourth grade educator, two members of 5th grade, both administrators, and a former principal that will be assisting with our PBL launch.  We can't wait to see what this Project Based Learning explosion creates at Vero Beach Elementary.

Guided through three days of training with Charity Moran Parsons, Twitter: I DO SCHOOL an extraordinary facilitator of the PBL101 training through the Buck Institute, we are building the foundation of standards-based, PBL for the upcoming school year.  We are excited to continue sharing our data, #failforward moments, and the successes of our learning journey.h