Tuesday, August 26, 2014

#noofficeday number two

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Yesterday was my second "no office day" and I looked forward to spending another Monday with teachers and students. There were a few classes I didn't get to last week and I wanted to be sure I didn't miss them this week. I was also excited because this week I was asked to teach lessons in several classes! I grabbed my iPhone and my writer's notebook and headed out. On a side note, I also wore a long dress and comfy shoes so I could get down on the floor easily!

Each week, as I spend time with students I'll be thinking about these questions:

What did I learn? 
What did I notice?
What does the teacher want me to learn?
What do the students want me to learn?

Off to my first class... third grade!

Ms. Fraser teaching a group on the carpet

This clipboard rocks. Whiteboard on one side!
Check out the expanded notation!

Task cards.

3rd grade = super focused and independent!

Next stop... second grade and readers workshop!

Mrs. Evans setting expectations for readers workshop!

After that, I headed to first grade to teach a readers workshop lesson. I decided to use a read aloud from the current unit that had been read to the class on Friday-- A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee! Here's the story if you've never read it! The first graders listened for the beginning, middle, and end.

Getting to work!

Love the illustrations!

In the other first grade class, kids were hard at work at centers. This group was illustrating and reading their poems from the North America coniferous forest unit!
Bears here, bears there!

After watching the TK kids at lunch, I headed to kindergarten to teach writing! I got to teach both classes about what kindergarten writing looks like, what we do during writing time and then they wrote about anything they wanted! They dove right in!

Can you read it? This kinder author read it to me.

My brother is cool. My mom is beautiful.

I like hello kitty.


Writing about dragons.

"I'm going to write about the sky and flowers and trees."

Finally, I stopped by a 4th grade class on the first day of their enrichment flip. This class is the playwriting group- and they will be entering their scripts in the B Street Theatre contest! One of their scripts may be performed on their Spring tour!
Brainstorming creative ideas. 

What did I learn? 
I learned that our teachers are differentiating instruction in a variety of ways and setting high expectations for students to work independently so they can meet with small groups of students. Our teachers are planning CREATIVE instruction around student interests and our students are loving it!
What did I notice?
One thing I really noticed was how kind our students were to each other. In third grade, one of the students got stuck and another explained what to do right away. They also enjoyed each other. Each room was a little community, even in the playwriting class where the students were a mixture of 4th and 5th grade students from all classes. 
Next week, I'll be asking these questions of teachers and students.
What does the teacher want me to learn?
What do the students want me to learn?

I love just being with teachers and kids- in the classroom, in the lunchroom, and in the drop off line. I can't wait until next week!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

My first #noofficeday

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At the end of last year, I was inspired by two blog posts I read on Twitter about having a "no office day". To be honest, all of last year was kind of an accidental no-office day because I had to wear a variety of hats- lunchroom supervisor, front desk receptionist, and even janitor from time to time. Our small school, while amazing to me, struggled to keep everything covered with a very limited staff. This year, our little TK-3 school grew to include 355 TK-5th grade students, and with the addition of students, we were able to add some additional support staff. I'm so excited! I love to be in classrooms, but last year I wasn't able to get in as frequently as I would have liked because we were just so busy!

After reading No Office Day by Matthew Arend and Why we love “no office day”  by Jessica Johnson & William King, I was determined to find a way to get into classrooms on a regular basis this year. In looking at my schedule, I decided Monday would be the day! 

Why do No  Office Day? 

Patrick Larkin said in the first comment of David Truss' post on Connected Principals
“…I think I need to schedule a no office day. Every time I visit classrooms, I am filled with positive thoughts and energy from seeing the work of staff and students."

David Truss also had this to say, 
"So why a whole day? Every administrator spends time in classrooms… every one that I know wishes they could spend more time doing it. Permitting yourself to spend the whole day in classes is cathartic. It is a battery charger like no other, and let’s face it, everyone needs a burst of enthusiasm..."

Last Monday was my first "official" #nooffice day and I visited 9 out of our 13 classrooms! For now, I am spending 30 minutes or so in as many classrooms as I can, and starting in September, my plan is to focus on just a few grade levels each Monday of the month. On those days, I might teach a lesson the teacher has planned, or a lesson I design myself. I might work with a small group of students, or I might just be there to dive in to whatever activity happens to be going on in that classroom. 

Every Monday I'll be out of my office and in classrooms learning with students and teachers, I'm putting it on my calendar and sticking to it. I'm even going to commit to blogging about it as one way I can hold myself accountable. I also find when I blog, I reflect and learn and make my learning public to my students, staff, families, and other educators. After all, I found inspiration for #noofficeday by reading the blogs of others, so perhaps I'll inspire someone else along the way! 

Being out of my classroom doesn't mean I will be disconnected from the needs in and around our school. My iPhone is always with me and it allows to me to keep connected to the office, and respond if needed without ever leaving the classroom. It also allows me to capture images of learning in action and I'll be sharing them each week when I blog.

Here is one of our Kindergarten classes doing some hip hop last Monday. You can't see me, but I am right there dancing with them! I'm still smiling about it!

Here is another video I made with some of the images I captured last week.

I can't wait-- tomorrow is another #noofficeday!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Giver: the only book movie I've ever loved

Usually, I don't like movies made from books. I will never forget how excited I was to see Tom Cruise in The Firm by John Grisham and then how disappointed I was in the movie after reading the book. After that, I pretty much expected all book movies to be a weak substitute for the original. 

Until now.

My old copy

I first read The Giver years ago and I remember feeling so secretive knowing that some schools had banned it for being too controversial. I've read it several times since then, most recently last summer when I read the whole four book series-- and I didn't know until last summer that it was even a series!

Today, when I saw the movie, I fell in love. In some ways, I enjoyed the movie more than the book-- and I LOVED the book. I found myself trying to remember the words from the book to go along with the images I was seeing and the sounds I was hearing. The most powerful idea in the book-- that people live without emotion, without passion, without love, without music was made so deeply moving by the movie with stunning photography, beautiful sunsets, and images that conveyed every emotion from pain to joy. All those things that I had tried so hard to visualize in the book were incredible on screen. Here's the trailer for the movie if you aren't convinced to see it yet!

Over the years, there have been a few movies that I enjoyed after reading the books- even if the storyline was changed a little. Some of my favorites include the UK versions of any of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, The Help, and Sarah's Key. 

But none of those I loved like The Giver. I'd love to hear your thoughts on books made into movies!

Friday, August 15, 2014


       At Scott McLeod's blog, he posted a challenge for administrators to write a post to help celebrate Leadership Day 2014! You can check out his post here. He posed quite a few questions to kick start our thinking, and I've selected a few that helped me as I wrote. Rather than tell you, I'd like to show you some things I have found helpful and also to share other digital leaders who have inspired me. Here are a few of the questions Scott posed on his blog. I won't answer them directly but I think you'll get the idea!
  • What do effective P-12 technology leaders do? What actions and behaviors can you point to that make them effective leaders in the area of technology?
  • Do administrators have to be technology-savvy themselves in order to be effective technology leaders in their organizations?
  • What are some tangible, concrete, realistic steps that administrators can take to move their school organizations forward?
  • What are some tangible, concrete, realistic steps that can be taken to move administrators themselves forward? Given the unrelenting pressures that they face and their ever-increasing time demands, what are some things that administrators can do to become more knowledgeable and skilled in the area of technology leadership?
  • What is a technology tool that would be extremely useful for a busy administrator (i.e., one he or she probably isn’t using now)?
  • What should busy administrators be reading (or watching) that would help them be better technology leaders? 
  • What are some other resources that would help them be better technology leaders?
Here is my list in no particular order...

1. Be a beginner. I love this video by Justin Timberlake. It's a great attitude to take when learning anything new!

2. Get on Twitter

Read this awesome post by Jo-Ann Fox if you are new to Twitter. It's the best PD ever!

3. Attend PD on your own, and not just technology PD either. Sit alongside your teachers and learn. Better yet, lead PD yourself! It's great to learn and connect with other educators all over. Here's the Google map I made of all of the places I've attended or led PD since last Fall.

Our new iPad PD- we took a photo walk!

3. Give teachers and students access to what they need. Yes, even the little kids. Yes YouTube. Yes Twitter and Skype! Read Kathy Cassidy’s blog post . Read her book. What she is doing with first graders will blow your mind. And you CAN do it.

4. Blog! Have a blog yourself - It's a great way to reflect and share your own learning. Here's my personal/professional blog. We also have a school blog. Better yet- have parents guest blog! Here's an example post by one of our guest blogger parents from last year during Autism Awareness Month. We also had Family blogging month and the kids took over the blog!

You can also use a blog to communicate with your staff - here's mine, inspired by Jessica Johnson, a principal I follow on Twitter! Star Academy Staff Stuff

5. Create a Facebook group for your school Visit https://www.facebook.com/about/groups to find out more. Not everyone is on FB but some are. You need to go where they are. Post at least 4 ways! Facebook is just one way I share what's happening in our school.

6. Use Remind! https://www.remind.com/ Free text messaging for students and parents is awesome and my families' favorite way to keep up to date.

7. Get Googly! Google Apps for Education changed my life. I will never forget the day I learned about it.

Check out this video to see the power of Google. Thanks, Lisa Highfill for sharing!

Use Google docs to collaborate about instructional planning- this doc was our dreams for adding new grade levels this year. We added ideas for almost a whole year!

Use a Google document to collaborate with other administrators- even far away!

Our first graders the first day the used their Chromebooks. We have Google accounts for all kids 1st grade and up

8. Lead by example Check out this post at http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-videos/6813-kind-kids-club - we're so inspired that our counselor is starting a Kind Kids Club at our school this year!

Our amazing counselor was inspired by a blog to create this wall

9. Help your teachers connect to the world! Check out this post by first grade blogger Kobe after our all-school Skype! Be sure to read the comments- by the author, left after the teacher tweeted out the link to the post!

Why should we be digital leaders as administrators and lead learners? Here's our Natomas Charter School uber goal that I think applies to every school.

What are you doing to be a digital leader in your school? I'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Back to school!

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It's the night before my 18th first day of school as an educator, and my second as an administrator. Although my preparation is definitely different than in my years as a classroom teacher, I'm just as excited as I ever was! I can't wait to see the kids jump out of their cars in the morning in their first day outfits and see the smiles on their faces. People often ask me if I miss teaching and having my own class. Yes, in a way I suppose I do, but what I really LOVE about school is learning. And every single minute of every single day is still filled with learning for kids, teachers, families, support staff, and me! I can't wait!

This year feels different than last year, and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it's that it's my second year at my school and not everything is new to me. Last year I was new, along with 7 out of our 9 teachers, so we were really building the plane as we were flying it. This year we have some new and exciting challenges- we're adding 4th and 5th grade, and none of our 5th graders were at our school last year. We've got our fabulous returning teachers and added 6 new to our team in addition to 3 student teachers, a new custodian, campus supervisor, and administrative assistant. Our staff is so big we now have 3 tables in our staff lounge! It feels good! Our little school has grown from 230 to 357 students in grades TK through 5th! 

New students mean new challenges, a new bell schedule, more cars and fewer parking spots. If you have ever been to our campus, it's a very unusual school in a commercial space, next to the Big Box Clearance Store and Mattress Distributor. Our classrooms have no windows and our playground has no grass. If you look out behind our school, you'll see Sleep Train Arena, the home of the Sacramento Kings. It's pretty unconventional-- and yet, it's magic. I can't wait to get there every day!

Why am I so excited about the first day of school? Here are just a few things I can't stop thinking about as we begin our new year!

  1. 357 students by name in the drop off line! I am looking forward to greeting the students I know and learning the names of our newest students as fast as I can!
  2. Seeking treasure- Learn Like a Pirate! Inspired by Dave Burgess and his book Teach Like a Pirate, we are embarking on a year long journey together with a pirate theme! 
  3. Writing! Every student and teacher in our school has a writer's notebook and we'll be exploring writing and writer's workshop together all year long, culminating with a Family Writing Night in the Spring. Here's a great back to school post about Writer's Notebooks by Katherine Sokolowski. 
  4. Reading! As you wander our school, you'll notice book doors everywhere where teachers and staff post books they have read recently, books they plan to read, and what they're currently reading. Our library is slowly getting ready to open, and we're starting a monthly family/student book club this year after being inspired by this post!
  5. Homework! We're rethinking homework this year in hopes of making it more inspiring, relevant, and meaningful. Here's a post you might be interested in if you're tired of traditional homework!
  6. Adopt a college! New this year, each classroom is adopting a college and we hope the college will adopt them back! If you see pennants and college flags around our school, it's because we are planting the seed that college is possible for each an every student in our school. Each grade level has a few college-related vocabulary words and we are looking forward to singing fight songs and promoting college spirit! 
  7. Art! We are excited to be incorporating more art of all kinds this year. We will have a school-wide visual art program, grade level plays, and we are hoping to fundraise for a portable stage! Every student in our school also will learn Spanish, and we're hoping to incorporate more music in the coming year.
  8. Technology! This year, we have a Mac lab, Chromebook carts, an iPad mini cart and teachers have iPads for teaching. We decided to purchase iPads instead of a traditional document camera since there is so much additional functionality for not much more money. 
  9. Maker Space! This year we are trying to incorporate a maker space, Minecraft, Genius hour, STEAM, and more. Our after school enrichment will feature a Maker Monday session that will combine Minecraft, making, DIY and more with our very own IT team of Joe Wood and Joe Cook! We can't wait to see how that evolves.
  10. Totally new classroom design! I'll share more pictures later, but our two 4th grade teachers have totally transformed their learning environments- no front, comfy learning spaces, rugs, tables instead of desks and more. We were inspired by two blog posts Reimagine Classroom Design and  Room Design or the Hobbit: An Unexpected Gathering when designing our new spaces. 
  11. No Office Day! Tomorrow is my first #noofficeday! Check out my previous post about getting out of the office and into classrooms with teachers and kids.

What are you excited about as you begin the new year?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Choose kind.

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I love my job! I am so fortunate to work with passionate educators who constantly amaze and inspire me. Even on a Saturday! Sitting at home, I checked my email and found an email from our school counselor Caroline Hines.

A few days ago:
Would you like me to create a "bulletin board" somewhere at Star (I'm thinking something character related - maybe our first character trait?)
I attached some ideas - let me know which one you like! I'll put it up next week :-)
Here are her ideas that she suggested... inspired by other counselor blogs. 

Love! They are all so awesome. I especially loved the empathy one- it made me think immediately of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I'm hoping Caroline will choose that for our first one! Choose kind.

Sometimes, we forget to be kind. To have empathy. In every school, we have the responsibility to say who we are and what we stand for. At my school, we choose kind. Every time. A challenge for everyone- to last a lifetime. Thanks, Caroline for leading the way!

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