Wednesday, January 4, 2017

MAGNIFICENT

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.  









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