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 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

STREAM problem-based learning!

 Today I feel like I found my soul mates in education.

I would have never imagined a trip to Denver to work with the Learning Alliance and  Share Fair Nation would leave me so inspired and action-driven.

At Vero Beach Elementary, we believe in every child, every  day, no exceptions.

 It's a philosophy that I don't just state, but one that is the essence of every single decision I make as a Principal and Lead Learner at our school.  It's deeply embedded in all facets of my decision making. But, it's not enough to just utilize this as our mantra, it must become part of our belief system in our curriculum and delivery to our students.  With 90% of our students living in poverty, it's essential that we give them the framework to become happy, collaborative, creative, inspired, and independent members of our community.  

I want our kiddos to thrive!!    I can see how this is a necessary paradigm shift that is needed for our Little Indians at VBE. 

I've wanted to start a Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics program- and have been told, by some, that my dreams are too big or the vision just isn't possible.  Our Superintendent, Dr.Rendell, however has supported this lofty vision and has encouraged me to take creative steps to change our  environment at VBE. We integrated a " choice and voice" elective program into 5th grade and we have seen incredible gains in our kiddos emotional intelligence and math scores! By adding robotics and art, a full Band program, and a student run media production elective option- our students have learned to become independent decision makers and choose their pathway for learning.  It's time to take it a step further!

I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to work with Share Fair Nation, the Learning Alliance, and other passionate advocates this weekend that have come together with a common goal, pushing towards more student independence, creative processes, and personalized learning.  Yesterday, I visited two schools that set my heart on fire.  The students at these schools are loving the learning process and are passionately solving real world problems in a setting that also demands standards and accountability.

Our students at Vero Beach Elementary deserve this problem-based, real world learning approach and our teachers deserve an environment that will foster this creative process that allows them the safety to take risks.

I can't wait to see what our partnership with the Share Fair Nation brings to our students at Vero Beach Elementary School

Denver will hold a special place in my heart for bringing me together with so many passionate leaders striving for change in our system.  

You have no idea how incredible this will be for our Little Indians

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Cultivating Kindness!

We are working hard spreading the VBE VIBE
Value Respect
Inspire Others
Be Responsible
Exercise Safety

I had a parent stop me after the awards ceremony and wanted to know what we are doing different this year to get such incredible results in academics and the 92% drop in discipline.  To begin with, I believe it is because we have built up our relationships with our families and the community. We have encouraged all stakeholders to have a voice and participate in the education process with us. Second, I think it has to do with our focus on the VIBE and kindness.

Here's a great video with pointers on what we can all do to encourage this outside of school.  The video is from Harvard Education.  It definitely made me think about my own boys so I wanted to share with our VBE families.

Very interesting!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

#eduwin Friday!

We are ALL growing at Vero Beach Elementary!

Friday was a day filled with #eduwin situations!

As a Principal and lead learner, I have become obsessed with learning and improving.  Being a part of two very strong Voxer groups gives me an opportunity to learn, seek advice, steal strategies, and vet programs that can benefit our school.  One of the main things I have taken away from these amazing leaders is the importance of being visible.  Being in the moment and immersed in the learning!

This week we were challenged to spend an entire day with kidddos!
Thank you #principalsinaction and #momsasprincipals for always encouraging me to grow!

What I was able to take away from Friday was priceless!  At least 7 different #eduwins!

1.  Our grade chair morning meeting (before kiddos arrive) allowed us to really dive into our data and recognize who and what our assets are in each grade level.  Our amazing leaders then had a chance to create a grade level action plan to support areas of opportunity.  #eduwin

2. To celebrate our 100th day of school our kids dressed up, created projects, proved thier ability to do 100 tasks aligned to grade level standards, and had a chance to show their creative side.  I love how one of our students used 100 legos to write "100!"  He was so proud of his creativity!
Students taking ownership of their learning #eduwin

3. As lead learners we used the 100 day to promote literacy.  We created scarfs filled with 100 golden wampum,  a very coveted PBS incentive.  It took me only 20 minutes to find 100 students that could show me the book they are currently reading in their backpack!  I was so impressed! Students loving Literacy #eduwin

4.  Our day continued with awards for 4th and 5th grade.  I can't believe how much our ceremonies have transformed, from students earning awards for clean desks... to now students being celebrated over and over again for 50+ point gains on their ELA and math diagnostics.   Every single little Indian EARNED an award!  Every. Single. One.  A parent stopped me after and told me that the ceremony made her so proud because she felt every child was celebrated and she's never seen that before.  That's what I call an #eduwin!

5. Ms. Moree and I spent time visiting every single class and taking pictures of our Little Indians engaged in learning.  We ordered over 100 11x14 pictures that we can not wait to put on canvas and hang in our hallways. The kids LOVE seeing their faces on our walls.  We hope to have this completed by next week!  #eduwin

6.  Our community partnerships contribute to grow and expand.  Thanks to our Literacy coach, Sarah Van Brimmer, and one of our school board members, Tiffany Justice; we have a huge kick off event planned for VBE on Monday!  Our students are going to love the guests who have committed to help us prove that #leadersarereaders #eduwin

7. Techie learning!  I was able to witness the power of technology to enhance differentiated learning in a 1st grade classroom.  Thanks to the learning alliance and the share fair nation grant- we will be adding 50 iPads to VBE!  In addition, our school is ordering another 25!  This means we will have 5 iPads in each of our Kinder- 2nd grade classes for our students to utilize to fill the technology and achievement gap!  #onourwaytoanA. #vbevibe #techieeduwin

We couldn't do any of this alone.  Thank you to every single person who has contributed to the growth and transformation taking place at VBE!