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