Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Every Child Deserves a Teacher Like Ms. Wainwright

I do not believe that I have ever written from a personal point of view on my blog, but an experience that I have been blessed to have as a parent has stirred my heart and inspired my post today.

My daughter has recently concluded her senior year in high school. As we have spent a lot of time at home reflecting and preparing for parties and just reminiscing, I realized that some years we had great teachers along the way while some years, I used our experience as a catalyst to examine practices at my own campus with my own teachers. Sabrina was blessed with one teacher that I wanted to write about and lift up that touched all of our lives as it illuminates the power that one teacher can have on a child and their schooling experience.

Of course, my own child was subjected to a variety of formalized testing and different assessments over the course of her educational journey.  From a young age, I began to note a trend in the results: Sabrina demonstrated a high natural aptitude in science.  First, if you read my blog at all, you will note that I do not demonstrate the same propensity--reading is my passion!  So, as a mom, all I could do was to pray that a teacher would cross her path that would ignite a passion for science in her to pair with her natural skill set. As an educator, I knew that the power of the right teacher could make all the difference in her academic life.

Sabrina was assigned to Kristie Wainwright's biology class during her freshmen year of high school.  From the start of that class, I knew that Miss Wainwright was the kind of teacher that I tried to develop at my own school.  Ms. Wainwright was enthusiastic about teens and biology,  welcomed parents as partners in her classroom, and as a result, Sabrina could not stop talking about her class and biology.  Ms. Wainwright developed a relationship with Sabrina first and the content came second.  Sabrina soared in her class, and she finally realized that science could be a path she was capable of pursing at a higher level.  I thought my prayer was answered then, but little did I know what was to come over the next three years.

As with any teen, Sabrina experienced her fair share of high school drama.  Ms. Wainwright was a consistent mentor to Sabrina during these times.  I was again grateful that she had such a positive role model at her high school that could guide and advise her during these times of adversity. Additionally, Sabrina took all kinds of science classes that amazed me that she had the desire to pursue in high school.  Rumors began to circulate that Ms.  Wainwright was going to take on AP Biology 2 which would be just in time for Sabrina to enroll in her class for her senior year. We all cheered in the Kimbriel household when this became a reality for Sabrina.  I could not wait to see what would happen as a result of this pairing one last time.

Sabrina had the opportunity in her senior schedule to serve as a "lab assistant" for Ms. Wainwright in addition to taking AP Bio with her--a double dose of Wainwright to end her high school years, what luck!  I loved watching their relationship deepen and Sabrina's enthusiasm for pursuing science in college become a reality over the course of the last year. Daily we heard the positive tidbits that come from a positive mentorship and relationships with a teacher. I could never say thank you enough to Ms. Wainwright for her genuine interest and love of my child.

Not only has Ms. Wainwright set the foundation for a solid high school experience, she helped Sabrina with the process of becoming a Research Fellow at Oklahoma State University ( and over the winter break no less).  I know that with the Fellowship, Sabrina will have the opportunity to develop relationships with college professors in the science department which will strengthen her college experience, provide another mentor in the field,  and hopefully solidify her pathway to pursue medicine in her post-graduate years.  The result of this strong relationship with Ms. Wainwright will have a lifetime impact on Sabrina.  A parent could not dream for more for their child.

I've tried to demonstrate to my team the importance of building a relationship with a child.  I've seen it work in my own classroom, as a principal from the sidelines in the relationship, and now as a parent.  While the time and effort we spend as teachers to learn content are very important, what is of greater importance is really loving children and investing in authentic relationships with them is of more importance.  In fact, I believe this is what sets a good teacher apart from the great ones.  I am so lucky that my own child has benefitted from a great teacher, as I know not every parent has the experience that I have had with Sabrina.

As an administrator, hiring the right teachers s is key to a successful program.  I look for teachers just like Ms. Wainwright to staff our campus--teachers with a huge heart and passion, who will take the time to develop relationships with all the stakeholders on the campus, but particularly skilled with developing those relationships with children.  It is why we have begun to embrace the philosophy of Allen November and The First Five Days of School at McCall Elementary.  Once relationships are set, kids can take risks, flourish and succeed in school.

Ms. Wainwright will forever hold a special place in my heart. I follow her on Twitter so that I can stay connected to her and her continued influence upon children.  She is pursuing educational leadership at Notre Dame and I cannot think of a better teacher to begin that journey than her.  From afar, I will be cheering her on every step of the way with deep admiration and my own encouragement of that pursuit.

May you be a Ms. Wainwright to your children this upcoming school year!

Thursday, June 14, 2018


My little blog has been sorely neglected.  I was laser light focused on my campus as I learned last July that our campus was designated a TEA Focus campus.  If you are unfamiliar with what that even means, it means that you aren't meeting federal accountability standards based upon test scores and student achievement standards; but to me, it means I was failing my community and every stakeholder I had been honored to serve as an instructional leader.  Ouch. As a result of that designation, I spent a lot more time thinking about if I was doing right by my campus, would we meet high expectations, would our work be worth it rather than this little blog of mine.  

I am a capable instructional leader, or I would have never been selected to serve as a campus principal in a  well-known school district.  I really questioned that a lot last fall when we started this daunting task of answering to a list and requirements of said list.  We had put a lot of great things in place the previous school year and made great growth, but it was not enough when it came down to it. Would I be able to rally our team to close this gap? Our school is much more than the list we landed on and I was determined to do better by our community and every person that entrusts me with their children and/or professional livelihood.  

So, work we did.  We crafted a laser-focused plan and worked that plan every day of the 2017-2018 school year with consistency and fidelity.  I personally had many ups and downs watching from the sidelines.  My husband should be anointed to sainthood for the bear of a wife he put up with this last school year. I am also thankful for friends that lifted me up, listened, and dusted me off and pointed me back to the plan and the work.  This job can be a lonely spot, but your support system of family and friends can really make a difference along with a hairdresser that hides your stress with every flawless application of color.  I am so grateful for my support system--I hope they will put themselves in the intended audience of the email that was sent out as a closure to our school year at McCall which I included here:  

Ladies and Gents,

What a year we are wrapping up here in our lonely summer days.  Last June, Scott and I were busy making plans and prepping for a big social-emotional learning rollout.  Summer vacation came and we learned that our vision for the year was to be changed due to silly accountability rules.  We had to quickly reassess and redefine what our year would entail upon our return from summer vacation.  It was a quick turnaround, but we forged a new plan.  We prepared our game faces and braced ourselves for the day we shared with you the news of our accountability shortcomings.  We were going to have to dig really deep and do the work in a way that we didn’t expect when we ended the school year.  Not surprisingly with this group, not one of you batted an eye--you digested our news and dug in and did the work and worked our plan EVERY DAY FOR 360 minutes x 180 days of instruction. 

Was the work worth it?  I know that all the team leaders shared the results, but if you haven’t seen them, well, they blew my mind. When the scores came and I opened the file, I burst into tears—Alicia thought something was terribly wrong, but my tears were a mix of emotions:  joy, pride, and triumph!  While it wasn’t exactly the work we envisioned last June, it was really worthy work.  EVERY  ONE of you reading this email had a hand in our success, whether you listened to a frustration, wrote someone an encouraging note, or worked intervention with a child until you couldn’t, YOU made a difference this year.  I am absolutely not surprised one bit, but the amount of growth reached is the story.  Our story this year is the journey; each and every struggle that lead to the growth of every single individual in this building.  YOU grew.  The kids grew.  Our scores grew. Our family grew. WE ARE AMAZING.  What an awesome end to our summer here in the office.  Thank you for a fairytale ending to the story we will tell for years—the one and only year we ended up on a TEA Accountability List. 

Let’s go forward and keep doing the work and reach new heights next year.  Are you in?

With my sincere love and gigantic thanks to each rock star member of this family,


Our story and work will continue next year.  We will blast the top off of accountability at the rate we grew this year. I hope if any of you readers are every on a TEA list, you will reach out to me and let me be a part of your journey. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Positive Phone Calls--With A Twist

As a first year teacher, I was blessed with a mentor teacher, Gail Warner (KN teacher in LISD) that instilled some practices in me that became foundations to my practice as a teacher.  Gail had high expectations of me so I couldn't tell her that some of the things she asked me to do that seemed outside of the norm of daily teaching (eg not learned in class) weren't high on my priority list.  I knew she knew best and I just did what she asked of me.  One of those early practices was to make a positive phone call home within the first days of school starting.  I was able to talk to the parent and tell them how their child was transitioning into my classroom and offer an anecdote of their first week in first grade.  Gail remains my mentor teacher after 23 years, so making those calls is something that is part of my DNA thanks to her.  

When I became a principal, I put together my staff handbook with some tenets of my practice, that although sometimes feel like lofty expectations, I know that if the expectations are if implemented it will often be the step that enables a teacher to teacher move from a good teacher to a great teacher.  One of the practices to put in the handbook, was the first-week phone call.  However, I gave my teachers the first three weeks to make the calls, as I realized that we are so tired from the beginning of the year, that to get those calls made with a quality that made it worthwhile was a lofty goal.  Each year, my teachers sign that they will implement the policies and procedures outlined in the staff handbook. 

It seemed that every year at about November or December, I would be sitting in a parent meeting discussing a child and begin to realize that the teacher had never made their positive phone call home as outlined in the handbook that they signed, that they even called period to discuss their child and their current struggles.  It disarms me every time it happens.  I really wanted to make an impact and change my teacher's behavior as I know it is hard to regain trust with a parent if it was never really earned in the first place.

I came across an article in March 2017 Principal Magazine that helped me think through how I could try to model the expectation for my teachers. I am lucky to teach with some teachers that taught side by side with me, but the great majority has no idea what I was like as a classroom teacher.  The article was entitled "It's Your Call:  Share Positive Feedback" by Dana Boyd.  In the article, the focus was how as a principal, she wanted to make more positive phone calls home herself as the principal. She outlined her strategy and the first calls she made were to her TEACHER's parents. She modeled the expectation.  This practice is literally a one paragraph touch in the two-page article, but it is what stuck with me the most.  Call your teacher's parents.  Hmm.

So, I processed that idea a lot throughout the spring and the summer.  I know that when we learn, the best place to start is by imitating and modeling.  Why had I thought to make those calls myself before?  I began to assess, could I do these calls without announcing them first so that they would be special.  I reviewed the contact information that I had at my fingertips, and low and behold I could make them.  The only thing standing in my way was the time factor; I have nearly 50 teachers/ professionals that I wanted to model for and that is a lot of phone calls to make along with getting the school ready for children and teacher professional development.  I began with the leadership team as they returned to school first.  I loved getting the feedback from them once the calls started.  I made many moms cry as I discussed the traits of their child that made me proud to watch them teach and make a positive impact on kids.  I received emails, voicemails, and copies of Facebook posts where moms, dads, and significant others thanked me for this small act.   The teachers themselves came in and told me how much they enjoyed their parent telling the story of my call.  I wish I had done this so much sooner.  

I know that I benefitted the MOST from these calls. I was able to discuss traits of each teacher on my staff and what I admire in them to someone who loves them with their whole heart.  I was able to share with parents, hey, you did a great job with your child who is now an adult and thank you for your hard work.  Every time I sat down to do a stack of calls, it made my heart swell with pride of the good we are doing here at McCall.  I have a few more to make due to some unfortunate timing and some that I do not have a good number of their parent or significant other.  But, to date, I have made 44 calls.  It is my sincere hope that this modeling of this process will help us reach out to more of our McCall families to let them know what great kids they have.  We shouldn't have to wait until adulthood for someone to validate the hard work we do that we call parenting.  

I am going to get back to my practice of making calls home myself to my Colts;  I was so good about that in the early days of my principalship and I have allowed the managerial tasks of the job to get me away from my calls.  Not this year!  I am going to model for my assistant principal and get him to make some too.  We have a form we created for teachers to nominate a child for a positive principal call.  I think it will help us ensure we get into a groove and make calls on a regular basis.

I know it is going to be a great year for every Colt in the building as we have set the stage for greatness.  

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Love and Connections

The realization that I have actually spent six years as the principal of McCall hit me as we were preparing for the end of the year and thinking about our departing fifth-grade class. I realized that our fifth graders were actually the first kindergarteners of my first year of the principalship.  In my reflections, I thought about all of our parents who were first-time parents six years ago with a fresh-faced, excited first-year principal starting with them on their journey through school.  What a tremendous ride it has been.  Not only have the kids changed so much in six years, I have also really evolved in my own journey as their principal.

In my remarks at our graduation ceremony for our fifth graders this year, I told the kids (and their parents) that a friend had recently asked me what do I want my kids leaving McCall to know?  If you had asked me that six years ago, I am sure that my answer would have centered around something close to my curricular background.  However, if asked that today and the experiences that I have had on this journey, my answer is that I want my kids, and their parents, to know that they are loved.  That is the single biggest takeaway that I have had in this role.  Love is what spurs us all on to be our best, learn our best, and give each other our best.  If a caring and nurturing environment are in place, then all the necessary academic skills that we deem important to learn in elementary school will all fall into place.

My second end of the year epiphany came during the hiring season.  Inevitably, as much as we dislike it, people change and grow and move on or move up in their careers.  While it is always a big task, hiring is something that I very much enjoy. I love analyzing our team and working with them to determine the ideal candidate to fill out their team.  Over the course of the last six years, I have been able to bring together extremely passionate people who love kids and love teaching.  I am very proud of the team we have assembled, so we are very picky about who gets to join us and share in our journey.  Early on in my six years, I hired a girl out of East Texas and was struck by her intense desire to move from a small town to the big city.  She had a goal and she wanted to reach it.  I remember being mama bear to her that summer as she really didn't know that many people and didn't really know Plano.  I was in awe of her grit.  Fast forward to this year, and I met another young lady from San Angelo.  She had the same desire as my East Texas girl--move to the big city and make an impact on a school and a larger community.  Why would I not want someone like this to make an impact on my kids?  What a role model!  Unlike the first time with my East Texas teacher, I had someone I could connect San Angelo to as she began to move in this week.   That is the moment it hit me--connecting people and setting them up for success is what the principal role is really all about.

As we close this year, I feel exhilarated about where we are as a campus and a community.  I feel blessed to have evolved to this point in the principalship journey.  I thank all the amazing people who have contributed to my journey--peers, teachers, parents, community, my camps friends, and my Twitter PLN.  I am blessed to have amazing kids, amazing parents and wonderful teachers surrounding me as I do this work.  It's been a great year at McCall this year.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

When Dreams Come True

When I began as a principal of McCall Elementary five years ago, I had so many dreams and visions for our campus. I was raring to go and ready to begin making my difference immediately.  As a leader, you know that you have to be purposeful and patient about what rolls out as leadership changes on a campus; the climate of a campus is a delicate balance and you do not want to move too fast and upset the balance.  So, many of my ideas had to wait and be fostered quietly, slowly, and with a great deal of patience before coming to life.  One component of instruction that I wanted to bring to McCall was a garden.  A garden is a BIG undertaking.  A garden was a vision and a dream which is now a living, active component at McCall!  

So, how did we go from an idea five years ago to a working garden today, March 30, 2017?  It was a long journey!  I worked my first two years establishing relationships with my teachers and community.  As teachers got to know me and my philosophy, they began to know that active learning makes my heart sing--the more engaged the kids are, the more they take from a learning experience.  I heard a lot of, "Wouldn't a garden be a great way to teach science and responsibility for the kids? ". Well, yes, yes it would and I would love it and the kids would love it, but I knew we had a LOT more work fundamentally to do in the classrooms before I could foster learning outside the classroom walls.  Additionally, while the teachers who stepped forward were passionate about leading a committee to make a garden happen, I knew from my research, that this was really a project that required a much more comprehensive group of adults in order to make this dream a reality for McCall.  For years, we just did not have much more than just our teachers and myself excited about a garden project, so the timing just was not right for us to start one.  Again, we had plenty to keep us busy inside the building of McCall, so it was always something that was a high desire but on the back burner of importance.  

Two years ago, a quiet volunteer from our PTA began a discussion about her passion and desire to incorporate that at McCall:  Jennifer Garvin (pictured below in the blue denim ball cap) wanted to write some grants to get a garden installed at McCall.  BINGO.  I knew we just could not tackle the project without a passionate person willing to drive us, Jennifer was just what I had patiently been waiting for the last several years.  I knew that our teachers would be fully supportive of a garden, and I also knew that all we had invested inside our classrooms would be ready to implement in a garden setting and that the kids would love it.  I encouraged Jennifer to start writing and submitting grants.  

Jennifer worked so hard on so many grants and talked with so many individual businesses within Plano to garner an interest in our garden project.  In those discussions, she stumbled upon Whole Foods.  Whole Foods was opening a new store in Richardson and wanted to partner with a school for a garden.  Last spring is where our project really took off.  I was invited, due to Jennifer Garvin's networking and relationship building, to be a part of their Grand Opening and receive seed money to start our garden.  I wrote about that event here:  http://stacykimbriel.blogspot.com/2016/04/a-healthy-pta.html#comment-form. Whole Food's generosity and interest allowed us to have a viable project, which then allowed us to have a credible project and gain interest from Lowe's Home Improvement store in Plano.  Lowe's donated manpower and the construction materials to get our perimeter established and all of our raised beds built.  In addition, Lowe's provided the fence, cobblestones, gravel walkway, garden shed, and tools.  The picture below of our Lowe's crew last fall building the beds of the garden. 

Once the beds were built, it was time to get serious about how to make the garden a classroom space to be used to its maximum advantage.  Kelly Hopper, another fabulous PTA volunteer with a passion for gardening, joined in Jennifer's leadership and the two have developed a Google Drive of lessons and ideas that would make any curriculum department salivate over. I just couldn't believe how many gifts kept rising to the top of this journey.  In addition, they contacted Master Gardners across the city and solicited their ideas in addition to their vast ones. We have had so many volunteers across the span of this project that I cannot even name all of them who have helped us get to spring planting season.  So, the stage was set, all we had to do was get the teachers to plan ahead to their spring projects and wait for the season to begin.

Just before Spring Break,  Mrs. Hopper and Mrs. MacDonald worked to get the soil in the beds balanced and prepared for the spring planting.  They made sure that each bed was labeled with a grade level marker and a garden gnome placed in each bed.  The kids began to get very excited about the development of the garden and the fun the spring was promising to bring.

As of today, the majority of our grades have been out to plant and begin to make observations of the garden.  We have sunflowers beginning to grow and a promise of some radishes coming up soon.  The kids are excited about tending the garden and their responsibilities to make sure that they have something to harvest in the upcoming weeks.  The journey to our garden was years in the making, but I believe that wait is worth it in the end.  I could not be more proud of a project than I am of this one.  So many people came together for the good of the kids, that it really is satisfying to witness.  Come by and see our blossoming garden anytime!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Raise Your Hand Texas: The Gift of Learning That Keeps on Giving

February was an absolutely magical month for me as a professional.  I had a pretty fantastic February in my personal life as well, so it stands to reason that when our lives are in balance, great things happen to us as leaders and human beings.  I have written before about the experience that has impacted me as a professional more than any other professional learning, my Harvard experience with Raise Your Hand Texas (click here for that blog post).  Raise Your Hand Texas is the gift that keeps on giving; each year they gather the alumni of the program and bring them together for a symposium of learning.  They bring Harvard professors and other guest lectures to keep our Harvard journey moving and growing. It is an incredible investment and one that as soon as I have the date is blocked from my school calendar.  It has become a sacred time for me, and after this year's experience, I daresay will never be missed again.  The Symposium is how I started the magical month of February and it is the reason that February was so powerful for me:  I was ignited by both learning and the strengthening of relationships with peers met on my Harvard trip. This year's symposium was in Austin, Texas home of the capital and the legislators that work for us.  There was no coincidence, this was purposeful planning for RYHT to host us in Austin.  Part of the RYHT program is the expectation that we will engage with our legislators on matters relevant to public education in Texas.  

This year's symposium carved out considerable time for us to hone a message to our hometown legislature and develop a relationship with them by taking us to the Capital to meet with them.  Raise Your Hand Texas did an exceptional job of preparing us for the visit and debriefing with us after our visit.  The picture below is what I like to (tongue in cheek) refer to as the "March on Austin" --it captures four confident (plus one behind the camera) principals in the halls of the state capital.  I captured this on our way to meet with Senator Van Taylor. Mr. Taylor serves the Plano community and is also on the Senate Education Committee:  he is an important ally to us.  We were determined to make the most of our visit with him.  We had our plan and purpose.  The commonality among us (Michele Loper, Kristin Bishop, Toni Strickland, and Kristopher Vernon) is that we all serve Title 1 campuses.  Our communities need our voice to speak for them as they often are not able to use their own for a litany of reasons.  We were excited and nervous.  We were hopeful.  Mr. Taylor was a great listener and took notes.  He asked us questions.  He saw our commitment to our kids and our community.  I would say that our meeting was productive, but not as deep as we hoped it might be.  

I have made a promise to myself that I will not only uphold what Raise Your Hand Texas has asked of me:  by developing and foster a relationship with Mr. Taylor.  I plan to take their expectation higher by also getting myself better versed in local elections. I feel that our impact can be the greatest with those that are closest to us.  That is my viewpoint only and I do not wish to fan the flame of politics here, but I have a responsibility to 575 children to ensure that we have the biggest fans of public education in office for their benefit.  I will continue to work on my relationship with Mr. Taylor by communicating with him via email and phone while he is in Austin and then inviting him to my campus in the fall when the session is over.  There are many issues which can impact my campus and I want to ensure that I respectfully convey their potential impact on my community.  Admittedly, this part of the Raise Your Hand Texas expectation is way out of my comfort zone, but after that first step, I am confident and determined to make this a reality.  I have also let our superintendent know that I am also ready to be an ally for our district.  Again, politics is not my thing, but our politicians need to be armed with information straight from the source and not from many other sources they rely on to frame their opinion and shape the policy that drives our work.

So, breaking out of my comfort zone was a professional hurdle, but doing that with the comfort of friends who cheer you on is AMAZING.  That brings me to the BEST part of Austin:  my camp friends!  Remember when you went to summer camp and you had a group of friends that was special for that one week every summer?  Well, those are my RYHT camp friends!  I am not sure what the perfect storm was for us all to meet two years ago at the Art of Leadership at Harvard but meet we did and form fast friendships.  Over the course of the last two years, we have just become closer and closer.  My camp friends are made up of principals from all over the state and representing all the levels of public education: high school, middle school, and the outlier elementary principal (ME!). They are all at the top of their game and I learn something each time we gather. The common bond we have is a passion for all things school and, mostly, the children that we serve.  I have learned about how different districts do things and their thoughts about leadership among a million other lessons.  We have bonded by sharing stories of our campuses, our personal families, and hopes and dreams as professionals.  They are a passionate bunch and we love each other so hard. The role of the principal can be a lonely spot, but I know that I have five people that I can text and get a response quickly.  We have burned up our group text this month and our continuing conversation is what I think has given me the best post-symposium glow of happiness.  Raise Your Hand Texas gave me a gift that I never expected on my learning journey: friendships.  I figured I would go and have a great learning experience in Boston two years ago, but what I got is far more than I can ever express thanks for.  I look forward to our continuing conversations and cheering them each onto whatever heights they might want to reach.  My biggest dream would be to get in a situation where we could all work together as a team.  If you dream it, you can do it!  Please follow my fabulous friends on Twitter:  LeeViMoses, Lance Groppel, Lindsay Harris, Todd Bloomer and Crystal Mueller.  I can't wait to pencil in next year's Symposium on my calendar.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Well, hello dear blog, it has been awhile!  I noticed that since I started writing my blog, my focus has really turned inward to McCall and I have not been writing reflections as much.  We have so many amazing things happening on a daily basis and it is hard for me to pull away and write, plus it feels so "braggy".  I am going to share in this blog post what our campus initiatives have been this year and where we are at this point in the year.

Each year, I like to select a theme that will solidify and unify our campus focus for the upcoming school year.  Most of the time my themes are inspired by a  children's book.  You caught the title of the blog, right (a play on my favorite book that I used for so many great skills in the classroom by Laura Numeroff)?  I am addicted to children's literature!  This year our theme is based on this little gem of a book:  The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.  If you haven't read it, I included a stop action project from youtube made by children who were also inspired by the book.  It is a wonderful read!

So, how does this tie to my little campus McCall?  Each letter of the word Magnificent represents an initiative or strategy that our campus is working to incorporate in all areas of our instructional program.  The letter "M" represents our work to create a campus makerspace for our children to create and explore STEAM lessons.  STEM and STEAM are very popular in education right now for good reason:  science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics are huge areas of focus for kids. Makerspaces allow kids to have materials and space to explore those concepts in a dedicated space. Classrooms are often cramped with desks, bookshelves, chairs, reading corners and KIDS, so it is nice to have a spot on campus where teachers can take their kids to spread out and use resources that can be shared for students to explore and solve problems collaboratively.  Our space is a work in progress, but we have a great start. We supplied our space and now we are ready for the teachers to start bringing the kids into the space to begin the fun.  

The letter "A" represents AVID.  We are in our second year of being designated an AVID Elementary Campus.  AVID stands for Advancement via Individual Determination.  This is a program that several teachers and administrators have attended an institute to learn about AVID strategies.  These strategies are designed for kids to set goals and achieve them academically.  At the elementary level, we teach organization skills, goal-setting, and relating to peers positively.  While most elementary skills are focused on our more intermediate students, we are trying to implement some strategies all the way down in kindergarten.  On Wednesday mornings, our teachers lead our children in morning meetings.  A lot of the skills that AVID suggests are incorporated in these meetings and then the teachers hold the kids accountable for those skills across all the subject areas taught.  We are just beginning our implementation, but we have several teachers that have been through the institute at the national and local level, so as our skill set grows, the impact will be seen in the classroom and student achievement.  If you would like more information about AVID, check their website out at http://www.avid.org/what-is-avid.ashx  .  

Our "G" in magnificent stands for our garden.  I believe that an earlier blog post discusses the garden, so if you want some background on the garden click to read about that.  Our garden was installed on an earlier morning with amazing helpers and donations from Lowe's to go with our grant from Whole Foods World Market.  Click on the link to see pictures of our installation.  Our beds have been filled for the winter and we are looking forward to spring planting.  Each grade level will be responsible for one bed for the spring planting season.  I cannot wait to see the garden in its full glory this spring. 

Non-negotiables are the "N" in magnificent.  Each grade level, based upon the principles in AVID, selected work habits or study skills that the children must uphold no matter the circumstance.  First grade, for example, is focusing on students writing a full heading on each assignment.  the heading includes a neatly printed first and last name, a full date, and the title.  Teachers have posted their non-negotiables for student reference.  One of my pleas with teachers has been handwriting.  There is a whole blog post ripe for writing about handwriting (and I probably have written it in draft form as I am passionate about that practice!), but this in not that place.  I am pleased to report that I can tell a massive improvement campus-wide in the last few years.  I have kids "sign" a good book daily in my office and this has been where I really see results:  I can read each entry, the children use the margins and lines appropriately.  This makes my heart so happy.  

Our "I" is one of my favorite instructional strategies:  guided reading.  Our district is back on this strategy being implemented with fidelity in each classroom, so we are doing more direct instruction with our teachers about the philosophy behind guided reading and how to incorporate the practice in the classroom.  I loved pulling a group of children to my table with a lesson designed to propel their reading skills forward.  It was always my favorite time of the day and a time that was never missed nor cut short.  I am hoping that more of our teachers will feel that way at the end of the year as well. Our district is using Jan Richardson's work with guided reading as the pedagogical approach in their training.  

The First Five Days of School represent our "F" in magnificent.  I blogged about that earlier this year, my only other post for this school year, at length.  I am so pleased with some of the parent feedback from our implementation.  We will definitely continue Mr. November's approach next year to start our school year. 

Another "I" in magnificent is hard to come up with, but for McCall, it stands for innovation.  I really want my teachers to feel free to try things and bring in their outside learning to blend with our campus learning.  Our students will flourish when we do that for them.  Innovative practices and thinking have sparked around here for sure!  We had two teachers receive Plano Education Foundation Educator Grants to fund their ideas for the classroom:  Mrs Kim Kilpatrick and Ms Samantha Smith. Their projects are literacy based for math and writing. They will implement these with their kids this semester.  

Our new Learning Commons highlights the "C" in magnificent.  The Learning Commons is our library, but to be inclusive of our makerspace, we have renamed the space to account for that expansion.  We had an extreme makeover with paint and furniture that occurred first semester. Our teachers have created original pieces of artwork to warm up the space and those pieces will be hung this upcoming week. I have tried to stay away from their submissions, but I have accidentally seen a few and they are spectacular.  Our community is going to be so impressed with our teacher's ability to create art--a hidden talent by many of our staff.

We highlight our efforts to continuously reach our vast ESL students with the "E" in magnificent.  We boast the largest population of second language learners at the elementary level in our district.  With that responsibility, we must always be thinking of how we can improve our english language skills so that our children can access the curriculum.  We are on fire this year with John Seidlitz's book:  7 Steps to a Language Rich Interactive Classroom .  What I love the MOST about these strategies, is that while they are proven to make a positive impact on second language learners, they are easily to implement for ALL of our kids, so that makes it so much easier on the teacher.  He / she can choose a strategy that will help all their kids work better with the content.  I just really like Mr. Seidlitz's approach and his no fuss approach to train teachers on these strategies.  Our teachers are embracing the steps and really trying to incorporate one strategy in each content area every day. I cannot wait to see how our language scores turn out at the end of the year.  

We were lucky to be selected to try out a clicker system for the classrooms called All In Learning; that is our "N"!  All In allows teachers to give students immediate feedback on their work at the touch of a button. Not only that, but our teachers can track that data over time to see a child's mastery of a skill.  It has been a learning curve, but we are getting better at it and the customer service from the company has been fantastic.  Darren Ward and Josh Vick are so easy to work with; they have provided multiple sessions of PDH, and answered our every question in a ridiculous turn around time.  I encourage any administrator who does not currently have a system for data collection with formative and summative assessments to see if All In could work for your campus.  I know that we will have a wealth of information in our databank at the end of the year and that will set up our children's new teacher with not only state and district data, but a classroom data portfolio.  

Magnificent ends with a "T", so our tie to the letter T is TTESS.  The TTESS is the new teacher appraisal system in Texas.  Texas' "old" appraisal system PDAS has been in place for far too long and TTESS a fresh approach to teacher appraisal.  I love the partnership that it is creating between the teacher and the appraiser.  The conversations that we are having about instruction and teaching make my heart sing.  It helps me know my teachers even better so that I can guide them to be the best version of themselves possible. If I have the best teachers, then my kids are the beneficiaries.  I love the tool and how it will really push teachers in areas that they haven't been pushed before.  I am not sure that they love it as much as me, but time is on our side, they will come to love it too when they see their teaching skills soar to new heights.  

So, that is our magnificent journey that we are taking this year. I applaud you dear blog reader for sticking with this post for so long! I may not write often, but when I do, I hope that I give you something that you can take on your journey or reflect upon your own practice.  I will report back at the end of the year with how we finished our magnificent school year.