Saturday, August 5, 2017

Start strong, collaborate, build your tribe!

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!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Project Based Learning Expedition!!!

Here is the Journey we went on to bring high-quality Project Based Learning to Indian River County.

PBL – Day One

“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.”
-Bob Lens

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”
                                                                -John Dewey

There are 8 essential elements required with the BIE Gold Standard Model;
1.       Key knowledge, understanding, and success skills
2.       Challenging problem or question
3.       Sustained Inquiry
4.       Authenticity
5.       Student voice and choice
6.       Reflection
7.       Critique and revision
8.       Public Product

Standards are our biggest focus.  This is how we are held accountable.

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.

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 

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!


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Too important to do alone.

I'm approaching a milestone in my career... it's almost my one year "work"iversary as a Principal and Lead Learner.

For those of you that have been following our blog, you know that this wasn't a typical experience of a new Principal, but I wouldn't change this for the world!

From the moment I got into education I realized that I really wanted to have a global impact on student learning and social emotional wellbeing.  I was addicted to helping students see the potential I saw in them, and that desire grew when I was able to do the same for the passionate and sometimes disheartened teachers as well.

However, what I quickly learned is that  being a Principal is humbling.

It's Incredibly humbling because it's something that can't be done alone and for some of us that have control issues (cough cough... me) it can be difficult to pass control and delegate important tasks on to others.

In this one year I have learned that it starts with taking time to understand our personal leadership mission and purpose.  What I have always known is that my core foundation is serving kiddos.  Every decision that I make stems from, "what's best for kids," and, "what research and data supports this decision."  Knowing the students are my essence helps everyone who I interact with.  They know to frame their requests with how it will benefit our students and increase student achievement or student emotional well being. It doesn't hurt that I have the most incredible Assistant Principal (the yin to my yang) and administrative assistant.  They both lead with thier hearts in helping others, exuding this sentiment in every capacity.

Next I learned not to make assumptions.  I came into a school mid-year and it truly took time to watch what was taking place and really decifer what could be tweaked to maximize results.  Building up the leadership team that serves our students and teachers is a necessity.  Shifting roles from a hierarchy of perceived power to a level playing field, where we all serve as instructional coaches, has helped us align to meet the needs of all stakeholders.  We are in this together.  The importance of our tribal council at VBE can not be devalued.  I'm so lucky to have the strongest team with a common mission and vision paving the way for student and teacher success every single day.  It wasn't easy and I think that helps all of us not take for granted the strong VIBE we now have together. Together is key.

Next is our TRIBE!  We must insist that every single member of our staff stay inspired by change and be held accountable to driving improvement forward.  I am a firm believer that there isn't a school in this country with harder working teachers.  We push each other, we question each other, and we share our #failforward moments together.  My role in this is to continuously shine light on those who go above and beyond and feverishly push all boundaries towards innovation.

Next is that we could not possibly do this without our community. The learning alliance, district personnel, and parents HAD to be invested for us to do the hard work.  Repairing our reputation and replenishing lost relationships were vital in our transformation over the past year.  Recognizing the value of all our stakeholders and requesting support and acknowledging their efforts is something I feel our school excels in.  We needed them and they came out in full force!  We couldn't do this without the full support and help of all involved!

Beyond what is required from our local community and within the walls of the school, this past seven months I feel I have grown tremendously by focusing on my own pedagogy and insisting on personal self improvement. This can not be done alone either. It's too important to be fixed in a leadership mindset, we must evolve and be open to opportunities to grow.  Luckily, my educational partner in crime and the other lead learner at VBE, Rachel Moree; has the same perspective.  We love learning.  We love dorking out on new books, podcasts, and projects.

What I have also realized in this year is that being an admin is no different than being a teacher in so many ways.  One of the greatest philosophies that I learned as an educator is that you," steal from the best and make it your own."  This transfers to the role of a leader too.  By growing my personal Learning Network (PLN) through twitter and my incredible Voxer groups; Moms as Principals & Principals in Action, I have been able to cultivate a high performing positive environment through vetted programs, strategies, and reflection. I love that we are constantly challenging each other and using our tribe as a sounding board for ideas and strategies.

In growing as a leader, one thing that has helped push me forward personally is having an incredible, unforeseen mentor to help me really hone in my intent and purpose.   In a chance encounter, I met someone who truly helped me prioritize my goals, manage my time, and frame my thoughts towards high-yield leadership strategies. Dr. Bobby Moore has guided me to a personal commitment of blended data-driven decisions, social emotional focus, and balance in my life.  He works with Batelle for Kids, and I can't imagine being in the position I am this year without his support and pushing over the last 7 months.  He has urged me to catapult out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to take risks, most importantly to be reflective and willing to tell the story of transformation.  Thanks to him, Rachel Moree and I submitted a proposal and will be facilitating a break out session on data and transformational leadership at FASA this year. I also will be working on moderating an international chat on twitter soon.  So many risks, but it's important for us to continue to tell our story so everyone knows that this work is too important to do on our own.

What I love most about education is that there is always room to grow.  Having this first year under my belt is completely gratifying.  Knowing where the school was... and where it is now... I can't help but jump up and down and want to scream about the progress our tribe has made!!!   My true hope is that in twenty years I still crave feedback and I understand the fact that this work is much too important to do on our own and that I welcome every single opportunity to grow and reflect.

Ultimately, it's too important to do alone.  Everyone working with children should feel a burning urgency to help every single one reach their true potential!