Sunday, July 29, 2012

What's the Big Deal with Pinterest?

"What's the big deal with Pinterest?" my husband asked me as he saw me searching some of my pinned boards.  I didn't really have a good answer for him, until he followed up with, "why not just do a google search and specify images?"

That certainly is one way to find an image of something when you need it, however, I don't always know that I need to find something.  That's where Pinterest comes in; you don't know what you don't know so you're not going to search for it! (Those of you on Twitter probably experienced this when you realized this benefit on Twitter!)

Here's the perfect example of where Pinterst comes into your life and helps you when you weren't even searching:

Have you ever had a pair of flip-flops break? I have several times. It irritated me, but I just tossed them and bought new ones.  Never did I think to search for a way to fix them (aside from when I was at work and had to just rely on tape and walking very carefully). Well, I was checking my Pinterest feed (not even sure if it's called a 'feed' on Pinterest) and look at what I discovered:

As much as I love decorating for Christmas/winter theme, I've never really sat on google searching for innovative ways to decorate, but look what I found on Pinterest:

Fill balloons with water and add food coloring, once frozen cut the balloons off & they look like giant marbles.
So neat, right?  Or what about these ideas, that again, I don't know what I would have had to type into google to find:
Paint in ziplock bags, taped to table. Great distraction, no mess!

Who knew aluminum foil was the key for removing food from glass dishes...Find more cleaning ideas here.

balloon powered racers
Make a family fingerprint ornament with salt dough + silver spray paint

Baking soda neutralizes the ph in the soil and nothing will grow there. use baking soda around all of the edges of flower beds to keep the grass and weeds from growing into beds. Just sprinkle it onto the soil so that it covers it lightly. Do this twice a year - spring and fall.
Hot dog spiders. Before cooking, stick pasta through hot dogs, then boil ! -Will have to try this for fun!

OK, so I do find a lot of random and neat ideas that I never would have considered searching for, but since I follow a lot of the same great educators that I follow on twitter, I find a lot of great ideas to share with my teachers, like these:
Six Classroom Questions to start off the school year!
Nonfiction anchor chart
Reading Recommendation Bulletin Board
math journal entry for types of triangles and sum of angles in a triangle
Great way to display class rules, reminders, etc. Use student photos with speech bubbles
Or I've found these great images/quotes to put up on the bathroom doors:

Seriously, I probably never would have searched for any of these ideas, but in just a few minutes each day I can check my Pinterest feed and repin a few items I think staff may be interested in and share it on my Monday Memo each week.  Quite honestly, I only check Pinterest a few times a week, so in less than 10 minutes a week I find so many great ideas to share with them. When you're on Pinterest and see these images, you can also click on them to get to the original blog post/site that explains more about the image (I did not do that for this blog post).

So what are you waiting for? Start Pinning!!  Here's a great blog post to help you get started: Pinterest-My New Love for Visual Bookmarking Education and Teaching Web Content

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Utilizing Twitter Lists

I recently read the blog post, Twitter Snobs or Efficient Learners written by Bill Ferriter.  In this post Bill states, "whenever the number of people that I'm following grows to more than 200, I simply get lost in the streams of information that come through my Twitter feed. At that point, Twitter becomes useless, doesn't it?"  This is something that I can relate to, however, I have found that you CAN follow more than 200 people on twitter and STILL can the benefits of learning from them.

Why would you want to follow so many people on Twitter?  Well, if you're only interested in following one group of people, say 2nd grade teachers, then maybe you can stick to less than 200.  During my first year on twitter I restricted my twitter use to following only elementary principals. At one point I realized that there were a lot of great resources being shared and  I wanted to share them with teachers in all of my grade levels and departments.  So I started following all kinds of educators on twitter.  I do agree with Bill that if you follow many people, when you check your twitter feed, it is hard to get much out of it.  This is why you have to utilize the lists function in Twitter.

If you go to my profile page and select lists, you can see what lists I follow, or just go here. (*Note-I don't have everyone I follow in a list and I would like to go through my tweeps and update it).  So, if I want to check my twitter stream to see what teachers that use Daily 5 are tweeting about, I can just click on that list.  I do have some lists that are set to private, for example my list of favorite people to follow. Not because I want to hide that from you all, but because I would hate for someone to have hurt feelings about not being on that list.

Another great feature of lists is that if you find someone on twitter and you would like to follow everyone on one of their lists, you can just simply click on that list and then subscribe to everyone on that list. It certainly saves a lot of time over clicking on each individual twitter profile and subscribing!  The one problem I have encountered is that if you are using the ipad/iphone twitter app when you follow a new tweep, you cannot add them to a list; you have to just wait until you're on a computer to do so.

Here is an explanation from the Twitter Help Center on how to use twitter lists to get you started.  Here's a youtube clip I found to show you how to get started. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Books for the first week...

In my last post I shared some tips to get started with informal walkthroughs. After posting it, I received this question on twitter:
So, here are the books I read in classrooms during the first week of school...

During my first year as Principal, I read:
This was my favorite First Day book as a teacher and when I shared this with classes during my first week as a principal, I talked about how I was nervous too!  I don't usually read this book anymore, but I keep it with me for a back-up, just in case I need another book.

I read this to our 4 year-old kindergarten:

I read this to our 5 year-old kindergarten:
I read The Kissing Hand to the 4 year-olds my first year and one of them began crying hysterically, which is why they have a different book now!  After I read The Kissing Hand, I give each student a little heart sticker on their hand to remember the story of the book and use that time to practice each of their names.

I read this to our 1st grade classrooms:

I read this to our 2-5th grade classrooms:
By the time they're in 5th grade, they've all heard it several times, but I always tell them when you find a good book, it's fun to read it over and over again. I also use this book for discussion/review on our Code of Conduct and why they're so lucky to have a teacher that is not like Miss Viola Swamp. 

And just in case I have extra time to spare, I have this one with me:

This year our school is going with the Bucket Fillers theme, so I'll be reading different ages versions of :

Principals--what do you read to your classrooms? I'd love to add to my list of books!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Getting Started with Informal Classroom Walkthroughs

Of all the things I have to do each day as a principal, my favorite "task" is getting into classrooms each day to see what students are learning. I actually don't see it as a "task" of something I "have to do," in fact I prefer it over all the other things that are on my necessary list of to-do's (like the stack of paperwork!)  I am very passionate on this topic and believe it is every principal's responsibility to be in classrooms. While I could write an entire book on this topic (and hopefully will someday) this post will just be some simple tips to get started.

It is very common for a new administrator to follow an administrator that was not in classrooms, which can make it awkward for the teachers and students that are not used to this practice. Or maybe you as an administrator have never really been in classrooms and have decided that you are going to start. If you just enter the classroom without doing some initial introduction of this, you will likely end up disrupting a class. Either the teacher will stop the lesson to greet you and ask what you need or a student will announce to the teacher that you're there. 

Before getting started, you will need to inform teachers of your purpose for being in classrooms.  During my first year as an administrator, getting into classrooms helped me to get to know all of the students, know each of the teacher's instructional styles/strengths, better learn the curriculum for each grade level, and just have a pulse of what's happening in the building.  (If you want to know more about what I do with walkthroughs now, you'll have to wait for the book!)

During the first week of every school year I go into each classroom and read students a story, practice their names (I love it when I get them all right during the first week!) and tell students that they will see me frequently throughout the year as I come into their classroom.  I tell students that I am coming into the classroom to see what they are learning and how hard they're working.  I tell them that I do not want them to stop what they're doing and they don't even have to say hello to me when I come in. In fact, I tell them not to say hello, but if they must they can give a smile or a wave.  I learned as an Instructional Coach that when the younger students wave they flail their arms around in excitement (which is so darn cute, but a disruption to learning), so I teach them instead to give a special little wave with just their index finger.  This "micro-wave" is their special, silent way to say hello to me.  When I go into classrooms, if a student shouts out or announces that I'm in the room, I treat it just as I would as a classroom teacher---I rehearse the procedure.  I give a reminder that they can just wave, I walk out of the room, and then come back in so they can practice the wave.  After 4 years of this, it is extremely easy to pop into classrooms and just blend into the room.  In fact, a few weeks ago during summer school a student told his teacher that I'm like a Ninja, because I'm so sneaky!

If you're a new administrator or a veteran administrator, put walk-throughs on your daily schedule and get into classrooms! 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The importance of Read-Aloud (at school and home)

I recently read The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease after seeing Matt Renwick tweet about it several different times. I had it on my list of professional books to read, but he actually mentioned it again to me in a parent to parent conversation when I shared my concerns regarding my son's animosity for reading. Yes, you read that right...the principal so passionate about reading has a child that does not enjoy reading himself. My son is growing up in a home filled with hundreds of books, is read to for half an hour each night, but fights me on reading himself just like he does eating broccoli. Don't get me wrong, he does love to be read to (at home and school) his favorite part of school each day is Daily 5 time, he reads to himself at school, and he reads to friends at school during read-to-someone (I even had to witness this myself, because I didn't believe that he could have such a different disposition at school!)

So after several recommendations from Matt, I read The Read-Aloud Handbook, which reaffirmed my passion for reading and the importance for reading aloud to my children, even though they may be old enough to read on their own.  I would highly recommend this book to any teacher, parent, grandparent, or child caregiver.

The author, Jim Trelease, challenges NCLB legislation and all other attacks on schools for low reading scores with the argument that a child spends 900 hours a year in school and 7,800 hours outside of school and that parents have a bigger influence and more time available for change to occur. By reading aloud to children (at home or school) we:

  • condition the child's brain to associate reading with pleasure
  • create background knowledge
  • build vocabulary
  • provide a reading model

You can find study after study (many shared in his book) that links student reading interest with higher test scores, parent reading habits with higher test scores, read aloud habits at home with higher test scores, and more cases of students from low SES/minority homes making significant gains and breaking their cycle of poverty when being read to at home (even from parents with little education).  What I found most interesting is that Trelease is NOT an educator. He is just a parent that was very passionate about reading to his kids and as a classroom volunteer, saw the effects of not being read to in other children. He shares tips for parents and teachers in this book about reading aloud, as well as a treasury list of books identified by the grade level child to read aloud to (note-the read aloud level is higher than the level a child could read to themself).  A wealth of information can also be found at Trelease's website here. 

After reading this book, my only concern is: how do we get this information to the parents that really need it?  Many parents, like myself, that are already reading to their children will certainly enjoy this book and have it encourage and reaffirm reading habits already established at home.  Unfortunately, the parents that do not read to their children or see the value in it, also tend to be the parents that do not (or maybe cannot) read any information that is sent home and do not come to school events or conferences.  What can schools do to try and reach these parents?  This year at our Open House (the night before school) I am planning to have a session in the gym for all parents to come in and I will speak at 3 different times and will include the importance of reading aloud at home. What do other schools do to get this message out and help support parents?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Daily 5 School-Wide Part 2

In my last post I shared with you an update on how we have gone school wide with the Daily 5/Cafe framework for teaching literacy.  Just how committed to this are we? Well, the reading basals are now officially boxed up and in storage!!

As we made the transition to going school-wide with Daily 5, I will tell you the first mistake I made as a principal...

During the Spring of 2011, I told all staff that we would be going school-wide with Daily 5 (almost all were familiar with it so it was no major shock) I told them that all they had to worry about was reading/learning how to implement the Daily 5 framework and that the following year we would add Cafe  to all classrooms.  Several teachers had already implemented both Daily 5/Cafe and several more also read the Cafe book to implement this past year as well.  So what was the mistake in holding off for the others?  Daily 5 is the framework for what your students are doing during the literacy block and provides the structure to build up their stamina to read/write for sustained periods of time.  Cafe is the acronym for the strategies you are teaching your students--both in whole group mini-lessons, small group mini-lessons and 1:1 conferring with students. While it is extremely important to have the routines/procedures in place, building up stamina just as "The Sisters" describe in the Daily 5 book, you need the Cafe strategies to teach!
So, there's my mistake. If you go school-wide, now you know not to make the same mistake I made!

If you are considering going school-wide with Daily 5/Cafe, here are some of the things we did in our building to help make this a successful transition:

  • I created a video from our classrooms that were already using Daily 5/Cafe to share with our staff/school board.  
  • Utilize the teachers that have already started and build on their success.  Let other teachers observe in their classrooms to see Daily 5/Cafe in action.  Look at their student reading growth in comparison to other classes--if you have enough data, look at the impact on those students after the summer as well (we're finding that since the kids enjoy reading books they choose, they're continuing to read over the summer and either maintaining or increasing their reading levels versus the "summer slide.") 
  • Give all of your staff the Daily 5 and Cafe books.  Buy as many of their DVD's as you can too.  Use the books and DVD video clips for staff meetings/book clubs, discuss what you're learning and try applying in the classroom while learning (or if they're not comfortable that's when they can observe others that have already implemented). 
  • Get memberships to The Daily Cafe website If you can't afford memberships, anyone can sign up for the weekly newsletters for free. 
  • For the first 25 days of getting started, someone combined the Daily 5 and Cafe lessons into one simple document: Daily 5 and Cafe for Dummies, which you can find here (you'll just have to create/login to this message board to access it). 
  • Throughout the school year, I tried to keep the focus of every staff meeting (actually, I call them Professional Learning Meetings) on Daily 5/Cafe. We used different video clips from the DVD's or the DailyCafe site for our continued professional learning/discussion.  As we started moving forward with 1:1 conferring, I even had a few brave teachers that let us share video clips of them conferring with teachers.  I also had a teacher allow me to video tape her giving a mock lesson and then in the video clip I put in funny thought bubbles like ("what was that strategy?", "what do the Sisters call it?" and "Thank goodness for the index") as she referred back to the Daily 5 book while teaching her students.  Aside from adding humor to our Professional Learning Meeting (which is always important) my purpose for that video clip was that we are all learning together and I don't expect anyone to be an expert. In fact, we are always learning and growing and if you have to refer back to your Daily 5 or Cafe book in the middle of a mini-lesson and then it is just showing students that you are a learner too. 
  • Once I discovered the power of Pinterest, I started adding ideas I found for Daily 5/Cafe in Monday Memo's to staff.
  • Invest in classroom libraries! If you're transitioning from a basal driven curriculum, chances are that your teachers' classroom libraries only contain what they have personally invested in them and you will need to flood your libraries with books for students to have a wide variety of books to select from.  Sounds easy, until you realize that $$$$ is involved.  Since we were cutting out the plethora of basal workbooks I moved that money in the budget to allow teachers to purchase books for classroom libraries.
  • Most importantly, support your teachers in any way that you can.  Be it positive feedback, classroom coverage to observe others, time to meet with other teachers to discuss, etc.  If you have the opportunity to send any of your teachers to a workshop with the Sisters, do it!  One of our teachers had this opportunity (our first teacher to implement Daily 5/Cafe) .  We did send a team of 10 to see them at a conference, but the Sisters got stuck in a snow storm so we were really bummed out.  (My teachers keep asking if we can bring Gail and Joan to our school, but I keep telling them it's not likely going to happen!)
I would love to hear any other ideas/tips from teachers/admin on making the transition to Daily5/Cafe!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Daily 5 School-Wide

A year and a half ago, I shared about the decision to go school-wide with Daily 5.  Since this post I have had a few requests from colleagues in my PLN to post an update on where our school is with Daily 5, so here it goes...

This past year, all of our teachers in K-5th grade taught literacy with the Daily 5 framework.  Our Kindergarten teachers held off until mid-year to start, however, it was such a success that they will not be waiting next year.  It was amazing to see that even our 5 year-olds could build their stamina to read to themselves or write for up to 20 minutes!

Across all grade levels, there is a drastic change in the amount of time students are actually reading/writing than when we previously taught from the reading basal.  Since the Daily 5 framework gives students choice in what they are reading, students are more engaged and excited to read.  About mid-year I started allowing our 4/5th graders to bring their books into the lunch room (after reading about this simple idea to "steal reading minutes" from The Book Whisperer) and was amazed how many were reading while waiting in line or had to be told to put their book down to eat lunch! I also had many great conversations with students about the books they were reading and have enjoyed many books myself that were recommended by students.

When looking at the reading data for the grade levels that had been taught with the Daily 5 framework the previous year, it was intriguing to find that there was a higher rate of student reading levels increasing over the summer.  We can only assume that this is because they are enjoying reading and continuing to read more over the summer.

I have also found that teachers enjoy reading much more in the past--both in teaching it and for their personal enjoyment.  In one grade level discussion, teachers shared that they previously dreaded the reading block and the boring basal stories/worksheets, but now it is enjoyable and sometimes relaxing during the literacy block.  They enjoying sharing their own reading lives with students and modeling that they, themselves, are learners.

This journey has been an exciting one for us as a faculty.  When we first began moving to go school-wide with Daily 5, many teachers wanted to visit other schools to see it in action.  One grade level did get this opportunity, however, it didn't become a possibility for the others.  What's most interesting is that by the time I was able to connect with another school to get teachers to visit, our teachers were already doing such an amazing job of implementing Daily 5/Cafe that we had teachers from other schools visiting to observe in their classrooms!  

In my next blog post, I will share resources/practices that we found helpful on our Daily 5 journey and a decision I made that wasn't so helpful (I have to give some reason for you want to return to read more!)

Thursday, July 5, 2012


"Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax." ~David Allen

Recently I read the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, which has dramatically impacted my work so that I can spend more time enjoying with my family.  Well, maybe not actually more time, but I'm better able to enjoy my time with them instead of thinking and stressing about all of the things I need to get done. 

Anyone who knows me (or likely any other school administrator, or probably teachers for that matter) know that I am not good at relaxing.  I am the type of person that cannot just sit on the couch and watch my tv.  Even if my favorite show is on (if you're curious, it's The Big Bang Theory), I will have things ready to do during the commercials.

Well, this week I tried something new. There is no summer school in session for the entire week and there's no one, but the custodians at school...a perfect time to hide in the office and catch up on work, right?  That's what I've done every summer during those quiet times, but not this summer.  Nope, thanks to GTD (Getting Things Done) I've been becoming more efficient with my work and I took ALL of this week off.

What have I done this week? Basically nothing. 

OK, I'm exaggerating, even with no work, I still can't do nothing, but I have enjoyed time with my family--swimming, playing outside, enjoying the lake on our new boat (well, actually it was more like roasting in the heat wave on the boat), beating the heat inside with movies and monopoly and spending some lazy time reading.

So, why am I sharing this with you?  Well, for one, to make sure that you all realize that it is important to find time to relax.  David Allen's quote, "Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax." has become very important to me. My other reason for this post is, because it helps fulfill my 2nd post of the week for the 2012 Summer Blog Challenge and my brain is not ready for any deep thinking yet!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why Students Don't Read What is Assigned in Class

*This is blog post #5 in the 2012 Summer Blog Challenge*

Since our building has gone school-wide with Daily 5/Cafe, my beliefs on teaching literacy have changed dramatically from when I started teaching.  I only wish that I could go back in time and teach reading the way my awesome teachers are now.  My beliefs have been influenced by "The Sisters," Regie Routman, Donalyn Miller, and Kelly Gallagher.  If you are an elementary principal or are in a position to have anything to do with teaching literacy, then you had better know who these educators/authors are and read their books! If you're in Middle/High School, don't close this window yet...

A while back, someone tweeted out a link for the following video that I think sums up one of my new core reading beliefs: when students are allowed to choose what they are reading, they will read more and grow as readers.

Does your literacy program/classroom give students a choice in what they read?