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!

Saturday, January 7, 2017


At our grade chair meeting I shared a story about a situation that happened a day earlier. That day was our students first day back from winter break and I was excited to see them.  I really missed them, and to be honest, I didnt sleep much thinking about some of their situations at home over the break. Some I knew didnt have a pleasant holiday break.  Some endured tummy pains from not enough food, heart ache from Santa not bringing them a toy for Christmas despite them being so good this year, and I knew some wouldn't be ready to come back to a structured school day.

I waited for our Little Indians in the car loop along within Deputy May, with a sign that said, "YOU matter at VBE."

I wanted the families to see it, but more importantly I wanted our Little Indians to see it.

Being greeted by so many kiddos with smiles, high-fives, and hugs was such an amazing feeling.

However, as I made it the courtyard for more hugs and smiles, I came up on a kindergartner.  He saw me and immediately ran up and hugged me through his tears.  He began sobbing.  He was hysterical.  I began to think about every situation that could have possibly caused this.  (My mind always jumps to the worst possible scenario.)

When I finally got him to calm down, he shared with me why he was so upset.

You see he got in an argument with a first grader on the bus.

Oh no, here we go.

He told me with tears still streaming down his face that his friend said this:
"I couldn't wait to come back to school, I really like it."

He began sobbing again.  I was trying to figure out what about that was so bad.

I began prying, "Why does that make you so sad?"

He stopped and stared at me with his big brown eyes.

"It makes me mad because I LOVE school,  and he only LIKES school!"

I giggled.

I grabbed him by his little hand and walked my friend to class.

Welcome back Little Indians, welcome back.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 year in review at Vero Beach Elementary.

I spent all day trying to verbalize what has taken place over the course of just one year.   Sometimes... words don't do justice.

Vero Beach Elementary Year in Review 2016

Monday, January 2, 2017

INSIGHT in 2017

One word challenge for 2017: INSIGHT! 

This year has been an incredible journey!  Having the opportunity to work as the lead learner and principal at Vero Beach Elementary has been an extraordinary adventure.  It's been filled with anxiety, fear, excitement, stress, and perseverance.  I couldn't be more proud of our Tribe and what we have accomplished in just one year.  Discipline down, learning gains up, and most importantly- happy thriving students!  I must say, with my heart poured into the walls of the school there have been far too many moments this year that I haven't been present with my loved ones.  The reality is far too often I was reactive and hyper focused on change at school.  This left very little energy to be present in my home life.  2017 will be different.   I'm finding that, while I will always be learning and growing, I have to have balance.   This will be the year of insight, inspired by my four year old, Aiden.  As my family ventured on our yearly road trip from Florida to the mountains;  I was deeply inspired by my youngest.   He listened intently to his older brother who explained the basics of snowboarding to him.  He asked questions and this helped him alleviate his fears.   As we snapped on the snowboard he said, "this is going to be awesome."  While he wasn't perfect, he persevered.  In fact, his favorite moment wasn't when he mastered the slope, it was when he fell.  He used those "mistakes" to enjoy the snow and create snow angels.

There is something about having the moxie to try new things and accomplish goals that we set that invigorates me.  The moments with my family have refreshed me and erased so many of the thoughts and fears that I had about the upcoming year. I'm not perfect, but I believe we have the tenacity to devour any obstacles that stand in the way!

2017 will be about insight.

Having the ability to understand that my career will flourish when I take care of my needs as well. Exercise, healthy habits, and taking care of my family have to be valued and prioritized

 Using insight to make decisions to continue moving our school from reactive to proactive student-centered decisions. 

 Recognizing that innovation will be the key to creating equity in our school.  The students deserve opportunities that level the playing field and inspire them to achieve their potential.  I will continue to advocate for them every single chance I get 

My staff deserves every decision to stem from insight, research, and passion.  We all need to keep our focus on what is best for the kiddos! 

I've been blessed with an amazing amount of insight from my professional learning networks through twitter, the principals in action Voxer group, and the moms as principals Voxer group.  This is something I treasure.  Having a "always growing and inspiring" mindset is what has got me through some of the darkness that this year has had.  

2017 is going to be incredible because my home tribe, work tribe, and learning tribe  have given me incredible insight to appreciate the madness and beauty that life is all about. 

Who else Is pumped for an amazing year?!