Welcome to LeadVibes. Take a journey with us at Vero Beach Elementary as we create a school of innovation! We will embrace our #failforward moments as we change our climate and eventually build a culture of accountability through our VBE VIBES.
We have committed to:
Believe in our Tribe, &
We recognize that: Your VIBE attracts your TRIBE.
I’m here to share our story.
I think we have all been through events that have felt stressful and sat by and watched how leadership handled the situation. Some leaders are only meant to survive. Unfortunately, not all of these scenarios are worthy of a blog post of recognition. There are some leaders who become agitated. There are some leaders who find the negative and multiply misery through constant complaining. There are some leaders who become angry micro-managers. There are some leaders who shut down completely. Then, there are also some leaders who THRIVE! I was humbled to be a part of a system of true servant leadership amidst the chaos and trauma of Hurricane Irma, as part of the TRIBE who worked at the Freshman Learning Center,Vero Beach High School Red Cross shelter.
I want to begin with Chief O'Keefe, the Principal from Vero Beach High School. Shawn O'Keefe was everything you would want from a leader. I've known him as a colleague, but I could have never imagined the strength and heart he showed throughout our time in the shelter. He was planned out, calm, an advocate for his facility, and an even stronger advocate for the people of the shelter. He was a true humanitarian throughout the 60 hours that we spent together, insisting that every single client at the shelter be treated with respect and dignity. I watched as he led through his actions, not his words. Personally, seeing him grab cots, blankets, and pillows for some of our elderly clients, setting up areas that would make them more comfortable through the storm.
I watched as he participated in the events we had, made jokes with our new friends, and shared his love of helping others. He inspired his entire crew to go beyond just "running a shelter" and encourage us to create an environment that would ease the stress of the impending storm and possible damage to our area. Kudos to O'Keefe for strong leadership!
Shawn O'Keefe also led and inspired a team of administrators that went so far above and beyond the
call of "shelter duty." Vero Beach High School Assistant Principals Greg Ahrens, Rachel Serra, and Megan Kendrick; along with District Director of Assessment and Accountability, Chris Taylor. We set up an environment that became far more like a cruise ship, then a shelter housing the elderly, homeless, and evacuees from the storm. With over 400 people in the shelter, we managed games of Bingo, chairobics, a National Guard led kids dance off, movie night, and an acoustic musical review. We were entertained by the hourly updates over the sound system by Rachel Serra, keeping us amused, informed, and calm throughout the entire experience.
This team of servant leaders went beyond the call of duty, including Megan Kendrick calling in friends and family to bring extra blankets, pillows, and even giving away her own belongings including air mattresses to ensure others were comfortable. We watched as each leader's passion for helping others led to 20 hour days of true humbled actions. Helping our new friends get to the restroom, sharing stories to help ease stress, and watching as our shelter began taking on it's own life of inspired volunteerism.
Here is a short video of some of the events that took place over the 60 hours we were with our clients. Its worth the minute to watch it all in action!
The leadership didn't stop with administration, VBE School Nurse, Claudia Viladrosa, was a part of the incredible team that assisted. She even brought her daughter Angelica and her friend, Bradford Heidrich along to help. Angelica and Bradford, both college students, spent over 55 hours, including night shifts, volunteering in the shelter assisting the elderly, helping set up, caring for our new friends. Two of the hardest working kids with the biggest hearts, kudos to you both for RISING UP.
Our team watched as the kindness began to spread. We witnessed incredible acts from our very own evacuees. Children from our local schools began walking water and snacks to our elderly and disabled patrons.
Families gave up their belongings to help others in need. Others jumped right in to assist; spending hours setting up areas and moving belongings for others so they would feel safe and settled through the stress. We watched as Jhonathan Vite, Sebastian River High School Sophomore and his father helped over 30 families not only set up, but break down their sites once the storm passed by.
We watched as inhabitants became friends.
We even had time to learn stories like Papo Hernandez, who has taken on the role of being the sole
caregiver to a co-worker he had in the past. Papo spent the majority of his time in the shelter not only helping Andy, but many other elderly patrons throughout his time with us. Such incredible acts of human kindness.
Overall, I couldn't be more humbled, inspired AND PROUD to be a part of the SDIRC community.
Thank you to all the Red Cross, EOC District Personnel, National Guard, and First Responders for everything you have done throughout the storm to keep our citizens safe! We are SDIRC STRONG!
Also- Thank you to WAWA- who insisted on giving us free coffee the day we came in before setting up the shelter. Sometimes, it's the little things that make us feel "warm" and comforted!
It's amazing to see others in the community that attended our shelter taking time to write about the experience. Thank you Avalon Mcgann for the wonderful article in the TCPalm.
It's taken me a while to write my first post for the new school year. Maybe because we've been busy, but more likely because things haven't gone as smooth as I had hoped. My own ego and pride stopped me multiple times as I began writing and had to walk away. Here's the truth, it's been an interesting start at Vero Beach Elementary this year. In order to keep the integrity, I must honor the intentions of being vulnerable, real, and reflective about our journey. Here's the truth:
This school year did not start easy.
However, for every single area of concern, I feel like we have overcome them because we are:
We have increased our attendance, which is awesome, but also resulted in needing more teachers than originally accounted for. We recruited and brought in incredible talent to VBE to ensure we are #tribestrong
Luckily our entire staff understands that we are greater together when our heads and hearts are aligned! Our grade levels have already put in an incredible amount of work to keep our focus on engaging Science, Literacy, Inquiry, Design, and Engineering units as we continue our SLIDE into innovation. Which is only possible when we are #tribestrong
We have new Little Indians to our mix, which we need to learn about and build relationships with. We love growing our tribe, but can't ignore that this causes some growing pains. We will show them what it means to be #tribestrong
Luckily, we have the ability to teach and re-teach our expectations, showing our new students, and our returning students, how to self regulate, develop a growth mindset, and thrive. We will teach our kiddos what it means to be #tribestrong
We have some new staff and have been working tirelessly to ensure that no students regress as we build up those around us. Accountability depends on all members sharing what works best for our students by ensuring our teams are collaborative, data driven, and #tribestrong
As leaders, we will continue to advocate so every child, every day, is given what they need to be successful, challenged, and loved. We will embrace the struggle, but demand progress by being #tribestrong
Finally, we have had a slight back slide in our behavior data as a result of the changes. We acknowledge it, adjust our path, and move forward. As a tribe we refuse to let anything stand in our way during this journey #onourwaytoanA
This work is too important to do alone. To truly continue with the progress we've made already moving up two letter grades in one year, we need to build each other up and continue to be #tribestrong
It's easy to assume that our tribe would just come together on its own throughout the year. It's also pretty easy to believe that somehow, organically, people will find time to connect, laugh, and learn about each other. However, we value the culture of our team enough to not leave that to chance. The most important role administrators have is to bring the right people to our TRIBE! Today proved that!!! We are so excited about the level of excellence that will be joining us. We had so many proud administrator moments. Most importantly, we saw that every single staff member values building relationships and setting high expectations.
Spending our Saturday team building and having fun was worth every single second! There is no doubt we are #onourwaytoanA
Our teams rocked the retreat!
Above is just a little sneak peek of the magic.
It's clear that at VBE... your vibe attracts your tribe!!!
Special thanks to VALIC for sponsoring lunch and for Barbara Hammond for allowing us to use the gorgeous Hammond Groves property! We are so appreciative of the community support!
“You’re joining a
movement of educators who realize the world is changing dramatically, it’s
complex and our schools have not kept up.
This PBL format helps our students learn to collaborate, communicate,
create agency, and get creative.”
Our day began with an incredible
opening by Bob Lens, Executive Director of the Buck Institute for Education. With over 1200 educators present and more than 400 on the waiting list, it’s clear
that this movement is something that might have begun as a grassroots mission but now has momentum growing and will only continue to expand. This organization prides itself on the research based strategies and data driven processes to help students make
meaningful connections through a real-world application format. Kristin De Vivo, Executive Director of the
Lucas Education Research program showcased the edutopia video that will be
released that shows the result of a field test that followed low-income,
under-performing schools who have implemented the PBL Buck Institute model with rigorous
academic standards. What was evident
was that deep meaningful work can be done through this process.
The keynote speaker was an
incredibly inspiring UC Berkely graduate, Yvonne Armenta, who explained how
going through the process as a learner has given her the tools to success for
college and life.
Design Question for Day One:
How can we plan effective projects
for our students?
Guided through our presentation by
Katrina Martinez, we spent our first day jumping into PBL by teams designing a project utilizing the Buck Institute Model.
Our team spent time brainstorming
what an ideal graduate would look like and what burning questions we need
answered by the end of our professional development in order to implement Project Based Learning. We spent time looking at the Project Launch,
The PB Teaching Practices through the Gold Standard PBL along with the
essential project design elements. The
intensive rubric required to go through the design process will lead to a
cumulative result. Having a PBL project
wall is one way to hold the team accountable for the driving forces..
“The belief that all genuine education comes about though experience
does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative”
There are 8 essential elements
required with the BIE Gold Standard Model;
knowledge, understanding, and success skills
problem or question
voice and choice
Standards are our biggest
focus. This is how we are held
The Vero Beach Elementary team
decided to expand on our “Dreaming Up” unit.
Our students will be exploring engineering and architecture through a
school-wide unit planned by our Unit Team.
The PBL academy will be exploring further by doing research utilizing scientific
exploration. Our 5th grade
class will explore chromatics, interior design, aromatherapy, and psychology
to create a proposal, budget, and design for a "zen zone" at Vero Beach
Elementary. Our 2nd grade
students will look at school wide data trends and do research on interior design elements and chromotherapy to create a
learning environment with the conditions that are best for students to focus based on a targeted area for support.
PBL- Day Two
Today our groups focused on the
work that needs to be done to create high-quality assessments to monitor learning
through our PBL models. Each team was
required to design a project that included a driving question, project idea,
the standards and content that will be covered and assessed, the products that
will be created, along with how our students will “make it public.”
Our teams were given a specific
PBL rubric to give feedback to the other creators in the form of “I wonder” and “I
like.” By giving an incredibly specific
format for feedback, we could help each other grow in our pedagogy and deepen
our understanding of PBL.
What I found the most interesting
is that the focus of PBL is to ensure that the key knowledge, understanding,
and success skills are what the entire foundation of the project should be set
from. The standards are what drives the
project, not the other way around. This
will allow our PBL academy to keep on track with or district and state
monitoring of standards. None of this
will be done in isolation of the requirements our students will need to move
forward and show growth with learning targets and standards. The rubrics that are part of the Buck
Institute model not only hit on the hard skills, but the soft skills/success
skills that are sometimes void in educational practices today. Collaboration, critical thinking,
problem-solving, and self-management are required elements in this model for
project based learning. Just as we are
teaching the math and ELA standards that may be part of the project, we must
also take the time to deliberately teach these skills as well.
Day Three: Managing Projects
Our teams dived in today. We spent time refining and critiquing our projects in the early morning. We then were split into diverse groups of 4 and had time to do a "tuning protocol" to assist the other PBL teams to reflect, tweak, and grow. Our groups picked up some incredibly designed projects with specific ideas that we used to enhance our units, including adding a ribbon cutting ceremony, adding in student surveys, and utilizing some web based resources for the design elements of the space. The time to discuss with the teams can not be undervalued, we truly learn best when we are open to feedback and willing to adapt to other's ideas.
All 1200 participants were then brought into the gym to hear an inspiring message from PBL Champion, Carlos Moreno. His message about his own learning experiences, personal tragedies, and hope for the future showed us the relevance of embedding project based learning into our school systems. We ended our day by coming directly back to the room to work through our lunch. We were inspired and ready to finish the planning. Utilizing a protocol we were able to hone in on how to plan out the project utilizing a project calendar to keep the teams accountable, organized, and standards centered.
The overall experience showed us that you can absolutely create an extremely accountable standards driven environment that focuses on real world application. Our 2nd grade and 5th grade project based learning academy can not wait to begin implementing our projects!
Creating these powerful PBL experiences is not only going to motivate our Tribe but that momentum is going to propel us "up" to new student achievement accomplishments
Coming directly from the Buck Institute-
Why Project Based Learning (PBL)?
Project Based Learning’s time has come. The experience of thousands of teachers across all grade levels and subject areas, backed by research, confirms that PBL is an effective and enjoyable way to learn - and develop deeper learning competencies required for success in college, career, and civic life. Why are so many educators across the United States and around the world interested in this teaching method? The answer is a combination of timeless reasons and recent developments.
PBL makes school more engaging for students. Today’s students, more than ever, often find school to be boring and meaningless. In PBL, students are active, not passive; a project engages their hearts and minds, and provides real-world relevance for learning.
PBL improves learning. After completing a project, students understand content more deeply, remember what they learn and retain it longer than is often the case with traditional instruction. Because of this, students who gain content knowledge with PBL are better able to apply what they know and can do to new situations.
PBL builds success skills for college, career, and life. In the 21st century workplace and in college, success requires more than basic knowledge and skills. In a project, students learn how to take initiative and responsibility, build their confidence, solve problems, work in teams, communicate ideas, and manage themselves more effectively.
PBL helps address standards. The Common Core and other present-day standards emphasize real-world application of knowledge and skills, and the development of success skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, communication in a variety of media, and speaking and presentation skills. PBL is an effective way to meet these goals.
PBL provides opportunities for students to use technology. Students are familiar with and enjoy using a variety of tech tools that are a perfect fit with PBL. With technology, teachers and students can not only find resources and information and create products, but also collaborate more effectively, and connect with experts, partners, and audiences around the world.
PBL makes teaching more enjoyable and rewarding. Projects allow teachers to work more closely with active, engaged students doing high-quality, meaningful work, and in many cases to rediscover the joy of learning alongside their students.
PBL connects students and schools with communities and the real world. Projects enable students to solve problems and address issues important to them, their communities, and the world. Students learn how to interact with adults and organizations, are exposed to workplaces and adult jobs, and can develop career interests. Parents and community members can be involved in projects.
PBL promotes educational equity. All students deserve PBL, since a great project can have a powerful effect and help them reach their potential, and even be transformative for young people. A project that makes a real-world impact can give students a sense of agency and purpose; they see that they can make a difference in their community and the world beyond it.
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 & Writers: A webinar from Heinemann Publishing Company led by Carl Anderson and Dan Feigelsonmodels 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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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!!!