Sunday, December 22, 2013

Inspiration from a Child

Earlier this month Bear Tavern Elementary School held its annual Winter Concert in our district's performing arts center. It is always a wonderful evening of music! The children practice from September to December to showcase their hard work and musical talent. I always enjoy the event because the children are so proud of themselves and what they have accomplished. This year there was a non-musical incident that made the concert very special for me.

As the band finished playing its numbers, the Early Morning Ensemble Choral group gathered in the hallway to enter the stage door and go on next. This year the group is fairly large and they decided to get t-shirts with their name, The Treble Makers, printed on them. Here is where the magic happens...

When the students came out into the hall, all of the children had their shirts on except one young lady. At that moment she realized that she had forgotten the shirt. Clearly the young lady was getting upset because she was going to go out on stage and be the only one without her choral shirt. I watched as the music teacher's wheels were turning and knew she was about to tell the group that they needed to support their friend by taking off all of their shirts and singing in the very nice dress clothes that they had on underneath. However, just as she was about to speak, John, one of our 5th grade boys, spoke up and said, "she can have mine." The entire group looked at him, including the teacher and me. Without a thought he took off the shirt and gave it to the young lady and said, "I'll be fine, you wear it."

This may not seem like a big deal, but for me it was a reminder that our parents and our teachers are doing something right. Hey, anyone of us could have forgotten our shirt, but it took a big heart and caring soul to be willing to sacrifice to help out a friend. This little incident truly made my night. At the end of the evening, I shook John's hand and told him that he was a rock-star tonight and I didn't just mean because of his singing. He smiled.

The news often points out the less than kind things that students do in schools; however, it is little stories of kindness, courage, and compassion that truly make up what happens in schools. This young man's actions were inspiring to me and I hope that they bring a little joy to your holiday season. Sometimes we need children to remind us of what is really important in life.
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Monday, December 2, 2013

HATS, Goals, and Me


Let me explain.

What is HATS?
At our school this year the theme is "HATS off to Learning!" HATS is an acronym for Habits, Attitudes, Talents and Skills.  More specifically:

       strong Habits

     positive Attitudes
celebrating Talents
developing Skills

We have been exploring these concepts during our Morning Meetings, at our Whole School Meetings, and throughout our classroom discussions this year. We even have a bulletin board in the hallway where students and teachers can post pictures that they would like to share of examples of their habits, attitudes, talents, and skills. So, how does this apply to me? As lead learner, it is important that I model what I am asking of the students. I don’t know that I consciously did it, but when I look back on things now, the last 5 months have been a reflection of our school theme for me (actually it is more like 8 months). Once again, let me explain.

New Habits
On Super Bowl Sunday 2013 I made the decision to start eating healthier. I was probably the heaviest that
I have ever been in my life and completely out of shape. I let myself get comfortable in the mindset that I was too busy to worry about my health. So, I decided that night that I was going to eat healthier. I’ve made the mistake of jumping in to this type of thing too quickly in the past and I didn't want to fail, so I figured I would just give the eating thing a try. It worked. I lost some weight and was starting to feel a bit better about things. This was the first STRONG HABIT that I cultivated. I continued this until the school year came to an end and then it was time to really make a decision on how to move forward.

Several months before, I downloaded C25K onto my iPhone; that is a “Couch to 5K” app. It sat on my phone and I opened it from time to time when I was bored; however, I did not really have any intention of using it. However, my PLN (Professional Learning Network) changed that. I went to #edcampphilly in April and met up with a number of people from my twitterverse.  After the event, we went out to celebrate and @sirotiak5, @wkrakower, @misscas22, and @thomascmurray were talking about doing a 5k in the summer (If I missed anyone, my apologies). There was no way that I was in any shape to run a 5k by then, no matter how many times they said I should. BUT, that was the spark that I needed.  I still didn't start running right away, but the seed had been planted!

On July 1st, I decided that I was going to give it a try. I have always hated running and it was definitely something I had never tried before to get in shape. Enter STRONG HABIT number 2. The app says that you will be ready for a 5k in 8 weeks. I say, “Ha Ha Ha!” If I tried that I would have certainly quit early. Fortunately, one of the many runners with whom I work (its like an epidemic at Bear Tavern) said that if I did not feel ready to move on to the next week’s running schedule I should just do the week over again; and again if necessary. That was great advice. By the end of the summer, I would get upset if I missed my running workout at the gym.

Positive Attitude
Somewhere during those two months in the summer, I decided that I needed a goal to attain. Since I had the app and was using it, I guess it was natural to decide on running a 5k. Thanksgiving seemed like a reasonable time-frame and my town has a Turkey Trot every Thanksgiving. So, in August when the registration became available online, I registered. At this point it became real. I told everyone that I knew about it so that I couldn't back out. I genuinely believed that I was going to run a 5k on Thanksgiving. I think it is safe to call that POSITIVE ATTITUDE. Even when I injured my hip and basically could not run for much of October and November (except on the stationary bike or elliptical), I knew that I was going to reach the goal!

Celebrating Talents and Developing Skills
Since my running mantra had always been "I'm not running unless someone is chasing me," it was awkward for me to start celebrating accomplishments in something that I have generally disliked my entire life. However, I found that for some reason my dislike of running actually seemed to make the accomplishments more meaningful. I began to realize that I probably disliked it because I never felt that I was any good at it. The first time I ran for 20 minutes straight I texted my wife with, "I DID IT!" Similar texts ensued as I reached other goals. I don't really know if running is a talent, but I know that I sure began to CELEBRATE it! Additionally, by reaching these goals and increasing my stamina, I was DEVELOPING the SKILL.

The Point(s)
We all need goals, and I found one that helped to spur me on to a healthier lifestyle. I received texts the morning of Thanksgiving from numerous friends and colleagues offering support. Here are a couple texts that I received from teachers at Bear Tavern:
"It is a great morning to run. Enjoy the moment and celebrate the accomplishment. You may not know this, but you've inspired a lot of your teachers - including me. Have fun."
"Happy Thanksgiving. Happy run! Disregard the other runners and have fun - even in the cold - this is what you've trained for. I look forward to hearing about it all." 
I can't convey how amazing it was to receive those messages that morning. I truly work with amazing people who are always there for one another. That morning as the nerves built up and I started to wonder if I was crazy for doing this, these thoughtful notes meant a lot.

I know that running a 5k is not a big deal in the scheme of things, but for me it means a great deal. I proved to myself that I can do it. I truly feel that I acted as an example for my own children and those at Bear Tavern in getting healthier, setting a goal, and working to achieve it. It reminded me of the amazing and supportive people with whom I work everyday. It showed me that my PLN is more powerful than I thought and can foster all kinds of learning. If all of that is not enough, it also showed me that adhering to the ideals in our school theme can help us reach our goals.

So, what should be my next goal....?

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Twitter Saves a Life! (Sort of)

A short post tonight...
Although it is fiction, I think that this 5.5 minute clip from Grey's Anatomy provides a real example of the power of Twitter as a teaching and learning tool.  Check it out!

Thanks to Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) for posting this on the Educator's PLN website. As a school principal, I am always thinking about the ways that social media can enhance communication. The first step is being open minded and this video shows the progression of a twitter skeptic to a twitter supporter. While it may not save a life every day, the connecting power of Twitter provides us all with support from around the world in our chosen fields.

If you haven't already, give it a chance and get connected. What is the worst that can happen?

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Monday, September 16, 2013

#NJED - A Great PLN!

Many of you know that I am a co-moderator of #njed chat on Twitter which takes place every Tuesday evening from 8:30-9:30pm during the school year. I encourage anyone who enjoys interacting with other educators to punch the hash tag into twitter and follow along on any given Tuesday.  It may be for you or it may not, but one thing is for sure, you will see passionate educators from all over New Jersey, and around the world, discussing topics relevant to educational practitioners of every kind.

Last week we kicked off our year with a discussion of all things related to getting back to school for the fall. (for those in other areas of the country, NJ starts school after Labor Day) It is reaffirming to see how we all have common hopes and dreams for our school years and that we all struggle with the same issues. #njed chat is an avenue for opening up the school walls and finding a connection with others who are eager to improve their craft (teachers, supervisors, student teachers, coordinators, principals, superintendents, etc.).  We are all on equal footing in this arena. There is no hierarchical chart on Twitter. Everyone's contribution to the discussion is valued.  We may not always agree with one another, but that often makes the discussion more rich.

Another amazing thing that has sprung from #njed is #edcampNJ. Last year was the first one and it was an amazing success.  If you'd like to learn more about last year's event, please read my post about it in my year end post from 2012 entitled,2012 - #edcampNJ and so much more! This year's #edcampNJ will take place on November 23rd and it is being held at Linwood Middle School once again.  If you would like to register to attend, just go to the #edcampNJ site and it will only take you a few seconds.

If you have been looking for professional connections and want a great place to start, check out #njed chat on Tuesday evenings.  You won't be disappointed.  Here are some of the amazing  New Jersey educators that you can find regularly on #njed chat:


This is just a few. Please add anyone who I have omitted in the comments.  There are so many!

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Five Guys, A Piano, and an Elementary School

If you have not seen this video on YouTube, you have to take 3 and a half minutes now and watch it.

I saw this video a while ago and just thought it was pretty cool. In August, as I was thinking about the start of a new school year and reflecting upon what direction I wanted our school to move, I happened to watch this video again and it was like a light bulb went off in my head (at least 100 watts!). The accomplishment of the musicians in that video exemplifies my vision for our staff and our school.

Yesterday we had our opening faculty meeting and I had my first opportunity to work with the teaching staff. After processing our progress and accomplishments from a very successful 2012-2013, I asked the staff to watch the video and reflect on what they saw.  After watching the video, here are some of the things we discussed.

  1. Teamwork. The most obvious thing that people saw was five guys working together to accomplish a task. As a school we need to work together to accomplish everything. Our school theme last year was "Better Together" and our school theme this year is "Better Together: HATS off to learning!" (HATS stands for Habits, Attitudes, Talents, Skills). We proved last year that we are a better staff when we work together. When we plan together, teach together, watch each other teach and talk about student achievement, we are better. Our children learn more when they work together. Whether they are working on a service learning project, creating artwork for the school, developing their mathematics skills through cooperative learning, or mastering literacy skills in a small group, the process is stronger when it is collaborative. Our families are more connected to the children's education when we encourage them to be a part of our mission. The volunteerism and passion that families bring to our community is heartening and provides fuel for all that we do.  As lead learner of our school, I want all members of our community to be on the team and work Better Together.
  2. Trust. Closely related to Teamwork is trust. The five guys clearly trust one another and this is why they are able to collaborate. The most concrete evidence of this in the video is when one of the guys is
    slamming the cover for the keys to create a beat while the other two guys are playing the keys. THAT is trust! I know that I had some friends as  kid that I might not have trusted with that lid over my fingers:-) As a school community, we need to have that trust in one another. As a staff we need to know that we are all here for children and working for their growth. We need to be willing to let others in our classroom to see what we are doing well and to help us with what we struggle; knowing that we won't get the lid slammed on our fingers if we do.  Similarly, children in our classrooms need to be members of a caring school community that works to build one another up and not tear one another down. Our relationship with our families needs to be one of reciprocal trust. As in any relationship, we will agree, disagree, and everything in between, but we must trust that we are working on that same team for the same goals. As lead learner of the school, I want all members of our community to trust that everyone has the right intentions when it comes to educating our children.
  3. Flexibility. Again, related to both teamwork and trust is flexibility. About two thirds of the way through the video, the five guys all run around the piano, switch places, and play in different ways. They are all willing to do their part to make the music beautiful. As they work together, they realize that their talents can be utilized in a variety of ways to achieve their goal. Our students need to take on different roles as learners and teachers. Sometimes they may be the presenter, sometimes the researcher, sometimes the glue that holds the group together, sometimes the leader, and sometimes the supportive team player. Our staff members need to know that they are valuable teachers to all of the children in our classrooms, not just their own class. They are responsible for all of the children (the whole piano). They also need to know that they can take on different roles in the education of the children, they can work next to one another, combine classes, co-teach, share children, and generally look at their roles through various lenses. Our families need to know that school in 2013 may look and feel different than when they went to school. This idea of giving the unfamiliar a chance is expanded upon in the next item in the list. As lead learner of our school, I want all members of our community to embrace change and know that resilience is an important life skill that we teach here and it begins with being flexible.
  4. Innovation and Tradition. The five guys did not just play the piano in a traditional fashion. They played the piano in ways that most of us had not thought of before. Many were struck by the use of the bow strings (very cool). This is important because we need to ensure that we are continually looking at the ways in which we perform our craft.  Teaching is an evolving art and science. The ideas, shared resources, and collaboration of the educational community on #twitter is a testament to the
    innovation that is possible in our field. If others are innovating and succeeding, we need to as well. However, we all noticed that throughout the video, their was always at least one of the five guys playing the piano in the traditional fashion. Let's face it, traditional piano playing is foundational and successful; there is no reason to get rid of it, but look how great the music sounded when the traditional was played alongside the innovative! As lead learner of our school, I want all members of our community to know that we value our traditions and traditional methods of learning as we seek to continually innovate, but this can be uncomfortable.
  5. Risk Taking. Can you imagine sitting in a meeting where five guys sit down and say, "So, we're going to open up a piano and start strumming, banging, plucking, and playing a piano in ways it was meant to be played!"? I would think that there are some who would balk at the thought of it. However, these guys took a risk and it paid off. I like the original song by One Direction. It's catchy and you can dance to it, but the version in the video above is amazing (I believe better than the original - personal opinion). It is not easy to go out on a limb and take a chance. Our school should be a place where students, staff members, and families can do that. We need to build up our children so that they are creative thinkers who are willing to take those risks. We need to empower our teachers to try things that may fail and we need to encourage our families to step out of their comfort zone and get involved in ways they never have before. As lead learner of our school, I want all members of our community to know that risk taking is okay and if we fail it is simply our First Attempt In Learning.
  6. Hard Work. That video is amazing; however, it didn't happen without hard work. There had to be many attempts at it and likely many failures. Making beautiful music takes commitment, practice, teaching and learning, self-reflection, correction, and all of the above enumerated concepts. The results of that hard work can be great. Our students need to know that success isn't and probably

    shouldn't be easy. The knowledge that success is earned and not simply bestowed is important in life. Staff members know that the teamwork, trust, flexibility, innovation, and risk-taking are easy to talk about and great to see in a three and a half minute video, but achieving those things is the result of hard work. Our families need to be partners in developing that work ethic and help our children understand the value of hard work; whether it is in the classroom, in the orchestra, on the soccer field, or in the back yard. As lead learner of our school, I want all members of our community to be committed to instilling a strong work ethic in our children. This begins through modeling it ourselves.
  7. Have Fun. It was clear that these five guys were having fun doing what they love. The looks on their faces and the choruses of "na na na na" are clear evidence of that. Having fun is such an important part of the learning process. Who wants to do something in which they find no joy? Our children need to have opportunities to find their passions and have fun in school. I am not naive and I know that we
    can't always have fun and that there are things that sometimes we just have to do; however, we need to be sure that is balanced with fun. I would also argue that there are ways to make just about anything fun. As a staff we need to remember why we work with children. Every person that I interview to work at our school expresses a passion and love for working with children and the joy that they find from supporting children in reaching their potential. We need to always remember that passion and let it fuel us daily. Working with children is truly joyful work and teachers are some of the most amazing people I know. While our days are often difficult, they should also be filled with moments of fun, laughter, and joy. Our families should have fun parenting and working with us. Parenting is the most difficult job in the world. It can be stressful and regardless of how many books are written, there is no handbook. Take a step back and remember when you were a kid and you found joy in stomping through puddles, when you could make up games with your friends with ease and no supplies, and think about how amazingly fun it is to watch your children grow as human beings. Sometimes we need to let children be children and remember they are not adults yet (and they are not supposed to be). Working together to educate children is just plain cool!  As lead learner of our school, I want all members of our community to see how amazing it is to be a part of something so special and have fun together as we educate our children.
Needless to say, I found that video very powerful and I hope that you do, as well. I think it was a great way to kick off the year with an amazing group of educators who work everyday to embody the ideas above. At the beginning of this post I mentioned that I was reflecting upon what direction I wanted our school to move and I am pleased that I was able to find some help from a song by One Direction (bad pun intended). But hey, that's what makes it beautiful (okay, I'll stop now). 

I know this is going to be a great year and that we are going to do wonderful things. I'm sure that there are other things in the video that I haven't mentioned above. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the video or anything in this post.

Have a great school year!

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Don't Jump in Front of Trains, Mermaids, and Children!!

Let me preface this post by saying that I do not generally play the lottery.  I have always been of the opinion that every day that I don't play, I win a dollar. Don't get me wrong, if the Powerball gets real high and the entire school staff is going in on a pool of tickets, I'm in. I don't want to be the only one at work the next day. But in general, I am not pleased with the odds when it comes to such things.

Last Wednesday, my wife and I took our daughters to a concert at the Camden Waterfront.  We saw Train, The Script, and Gavin DeGraw. The concert was fantastic and all three bands put on great shows. Two days before the concert my wife and daughters found out that there was a radio contest. Apparently, if you show up at the concert dressed like a mermaid, you can have a chance to go onstage with Train (Train's latest album is Mermaids of Alcatraz). My 14 year old and my 7 year old were both set on making mermaid costumes and getting up on stage.

My first instinct was to tell them that the likelihood of getting up on stage with Train at the Susquehanna Bank Center was slim. That was my adult brain working there. I didn't do that. I'm not sure when it occurs that you start realizing the odds of things, but it sure isn't when you are 14 or 7. My daughters knew that they were going to get up on stage. As an educator, I always have to remember that sometimes the worst thing that we can do for children is to limit them by our expectations. I realize that the context of this is slightly different than reading or math achievement, but the principle still applies.

So, we went to the show and my daughters got their tickets for the drawing to go on stage since they were
picture from
dressed appropriately and had their picture taken. We had lawn seats to the show and enjoyed the first two acts on a beautiful evening. Now, I should also mention that Train is my 14 year old's favorite band and this was my 7 year old's first experience ever at a concert. When it came time for them to go up to the front to see if they were chosen, my wife went with them and I remained with our things on the lawn.

As the 50 or so Mermaids began to come onto the stage I searched for my daughters' purple tank tops and mermaid bottoms on the stage and on the big screen. Lo and behold, there they were. They actually got up on stage in front of 20,000 people or so. I must admit, I started to scream my fool head off. Anyway, they were awesome up there (Here is a video from YouTube of the number).  One of my daughters got to sing into the mic and held the lead singer's (Pat Monahan) hand when they took a bow and the other one high-fived him and was having a great time singing and dancing. When they came back to the lawn my 7 year old jumped into my arms to show me the Train towel they gave her and shout how she got on stage. My 14 year old was basically shaking and stuttering in excitement and disbelief. My wife had a smile from ear to ear.

Now, why do I write this post? Remember what I could have said when they told me about the contest? I could have thrown their dream in front of the train instead of letting them be mermaids and have fun on stage with Train. I think that it is important to remember that the wonder and belief of children is something we should all respect; when it comes to crazy radio contests or when it comes to any dreams they may have.

You might be saying, "Yes, BUT what if they had not gotten on stage?" I say, "so what?" They had fun and that would have led to a great discussion on handling disappointment. Really, there is no downside to supporting them.

What do you think?

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

ClassCharts - A Classroom Management Tech Tool Worth a Look

If you have not checked out ClassCharts yet, it is worth giving it a look. This past year in my school my special area teachers were looking for a mechanism to provide consistency with behavioral expectations across all classes.  ClassCharts is a tool that can give them that consistency in a unified fashion without unending meetings and set-up time.  I intend to suggest it to them when they return for next school year.

I had an opportunity to test drive the Website with a free account. ClassCharts is a free teacher tool created by teachers in the UK. As one who finds visuals very appealing when working or learning, this tool is well suited for my needs.  The ClassCharts interface provides teachers with a data-rich seating chart that provides  flexibility and customization for various classroom needs and functions.

At its core, ClassCharts is a seating chart, into which you can import pictures of the students and arrange them according to your classroom layout.  The system then allows you to add specific data about your students that can appear on the seating chart.  Some of the built-in fields include, behavior data, aftercare status, free meals, gender, group, literacy target, and reading age.  Fields can be added to meet the data needs of your classroom.  A teacher can then have the 4 most pertinent pieces of information visible on the chart, which can be printed or viewed on the computer or mobile device, while all of the other data can be seen in reports or other views on the computer.

It is a rather simple set-up and the knowledge base section of the website is quite well done. There are video tutorials for some of the main functions and informative descriptions to help with most questions. There is a digital brochure that discusses some of the major components, but I suggest setting up a free account and taking it for a test drive.

Two of the features that I was most impressed with include the collaboration tool and the ability to upload students via excel spreadsheet. Collaboration allows teachers to be consistent over the course of a day, a week, a month, etc.
By sharing students with colleagues teachers can have a fluid view of various data, including behavior.  This enables them to respond appropriately. The system allows teachers to award points for positive behaviors and subtract points for negative behaviors. Depending upon your philosophy with this type of information their are also functions that allow for giving access to real-time data to parents and the students via individual accounts. From a practicality perspective, the ability to upload a spreadsheet of students is very important since most districts can provide teachers with a CSV file that would be easily uploaded from Excel.

I can't stress enough the flexibility of the tool and its visual nature. It makes the data easily accessible and user-friendly. The long and short of it is that I recommend taking a look at this versatile tool.  It will be a wonderful way to manage some key classroom data, collaborate with colleagues, and provide substitute teachers with printed visuals that they need. Also, as a teacher created tool, using it supports innovation among educators world-wide.

Also, if you are an edmodo user, it is currently (as of this post) the #1 free app in the edmodo store and can be downloaded right into edmodo! (Note - you do not need to use edmodo to use ClassCharts)

After you try it, I'd love to hear your comments below!

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Few Words About 50 Years of Learning Together

On June 27th, on his blog Evolving Educators, @ScottRRocco invited other administrators to share their speeches as a resource for one another.  This sharing of resources is the foundation of PLNs and helps us all to become better educators.  This year Bear Tavern School had its 50th Anniversary and as principal I had the great honor of speaking at that event.  Below I printed my speech.  I hope that it is as inspiring and helpful as the school for which it was written.  Enjoy!

So here we are, near the end of our ceremony celebrating an anniversary for an amazing place of which I am humbled to be the lead learner.  I am celebrating my 10th anniversary as principal of this fine, fine school and couldn’t imagine it any other way.  You have heard about some of the history of this place.  I think that it is ironic that as this school went into its first year of existence there was a natural disaster that delayed the opening and caused the community to pull together to educate the children and get this school opened, a little later than the other schools in 1962, but open nonetheless.

As we came into our 50th school year we also had an unfortunate vandalism disaster befall our beloved school.  It was one that brought tears to many of our eyes and caused us to fear that Bear Tavern may not open in time for the children.  I’ve come to learn over the course of my life that sometimes the most beautiful things come from something painful.

 John Steinbeck used the metaphor of the pearl to describe this in his book of the same name.  Pearls are formed when a foreign substance, like sand, gets caught inside of an oyster and as a defense against the pain, the oyster begins to coat it with a substance that eventually becomes the beautiful and rare pearls that we enjoy.  This is a simplistic description; however, I think it is appropriate for how our year began. 

Our community was shaken and had choices to make.  We chose to make something beautiful.  I don’t just mean that we got our school back to its pristine appearance, which we did.  What I am talking about is the beauty of spirit that was shown by this community as it banded together for our children and our school.

I saw the best in people.  I saw families adopting bulletin boards because teachers would not have time to complete them before school started with only days to prepare for their school year.  I saw community organizations and businesses offering support through the resources available to them.  I saw a community come out for a grand reopening, not just to rejoice in the fact that the doors were open, but to roll up their sleeves and work together, yes to work Better Together to get our school ready and so much more.

Our school theme is “Better Together.”  It has also been a theme throughout our day.  During the gazebo dedication this morning I spoke about how that wonderful structure is the product of students, teachers, parents, and community organizations working together.  During the Art Unveilings I discussed how the partnerships that we have made with our neighboring corporations, colleges, and community organizations result in the beautiful works of art that we proudly create and display on our walls.  Better together really kind of sums up life.  When you think about most areas of your life, aren’t they more joyful when you can share them with others?  Aren’t the difficult times more tolerable when there are others there to help you through?

As an elementary school community it is our mission to educate the children of Hopewell Township; to develop strong minds, strong bodies, and strong character.  This school has been built on a foundation of community that goes back to the day that it opened.  I received a letter yesterday written by a teacher in the audience today.  Her name is Jeanette Frantz; the letter and the picture she sent with it can be found in the cafeteria, but I can sum up her whole letter with her final sentence.  “Good memories of Bear Tavern School remain in my mind, but most of all – the people of Bear Tavern School will always be in my heart.”

The people of Bear Tavern School; that truly is what we are as a school.  Mrs. Frantz’ memories of her 20 years at Bear Tavern boil down to the people.  I would have to agree.  My memories of the last 10 years at Bear Tavern School have been about relationships, community, and the people.  We educate the children in a safe and comfortable environment in which they know we care for them.  Prior to my arrival, Mr. Scheetz (my predecessor) and the staff embarked on a journey to become a Responsive Classroom School.  This approach to educating children is rooted in the idea that children learn best in a place where they feel comfortable and empowered.  We use the acronym CARES to remind ourselves of the type of environment we wish to provide for the children.  The letters stand for Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Control.  You’ll find this represented in the cafeteria, as well.

I don’t want to go on much longer, but I do want to leave looking forward.  As we move further into the 21st century our world and society is changing.  This is a fearful thing for many among us.  We feel comfort in the things that we had and experienced when we grew up.  Our challenge is to balance the solid traditional foundation that we have created here at Bear Tavern with the innovative spirit that continues to make our country great.  These boys and girls before us will live in a world that we can’t even imagine. 

If we could go back to 1962 and tell the staff and students that in 50 years having a telephone in your pocket everywhere you go would be the norm, what would they say?  Or if we even tried to explain the Internet or Apps? What would someone say if they were asked to “just Google it?”  I think that they would see it as science fiction, not as fact.  As we move forward at Bear Tavern we need to be sure that we are working together as teachers, parents, and community to educate the children for their future by learning from the advances of our past.

I am committed to working with the people of this community to provide children with the modern education that they require; we will utilize the technology at our disposal to do so whether it is chalk or an iPad.  Please continue with me on this journey.  Our work can only be Better Together.

I will end with words from a favorite book that I have read to many classes over the years.  The book is entitled, A Fine, Fine School and was written by Sharon Creech.  Mr. Keene, the principal says, “Oh! Aren’t these fine children? Aren’t these fine teachers? Isn’t this a fine, fine school?”  Thank you all for working with me to make this such a fine, fine school!

Thank you. 
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Saturday, June 29, 2013

So Much to Say…

My last post was over one month ago.  I have to say that I have missed writing blog posts during that time, but I also think that it has recharged me for writing more this summer.  Our school year in New Jersey went until June 25th  and the last month was very busy, so I took a break from writing (I don't know that it was a conscious decision).  During that time so much has happened that I will be writing about over the summer in retrospect.
We had our school's 50th anniversary celebration; we had HVAC crews in our school displacing classrooms and installing HVAC; we have begun work in grades K-2 with new Readers and Writers Workshop units and curricula; we have done work on teacher and
principal evaluation systems; we have improved our home/school and community connections; we have had a very positive year and ended strong.

I have begun graduate work again; I have lost 30 pounds; I have started running; I have been reflecting upon my successes and struggles; I have committed to a new digital book club with 5th graders next year; I have worked to schedule greater amounts of PLC time in my school next year; I have started delving deeper into the Danielson Frameworks; and I have committed to writing more this summer.

So, you see, I have so much to say this summer!  I look forward to sharing and reflecting with you over the next two months as I prepare for an amazing 2013-2014 school year.

  Stay tuned!

Bear Tavern staff and students show their age

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

#edcampphilly 2013 - Simply Wonderful!

Yesterday was a fantastic day of learning and connecting at #edcampphilly!  I went back to my edcamp roots and made sure that I was in attendance at this one.  Last year I went to edcampphilly 2012 and it sparked an interest in becoming more involved in the edcamp movement.  I subsequently attended #edcampleadership 2012 and then helped to organize  #edcampNJ 2012.  Now I am currently working with the same group of amazing educators to plan #edcampNJ 2013 which will take place at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick, NJ on November 23rd.  But, I digress.

As is always the case when I attend an edcamp, I feel reinvigorated and connected by others who are passionate about education and the things that they are doing with children in their classrooms and schools.  Connecting with many of my PLN members from Twitter is also another great benefit of attending.  As @wkrakower tweeted yesterday in response to a tweet about conversations at edcamp:

There were so many amazing sessions to choose from that it was a shame that I could only pick four.  Check out the list of offerings that the participants facilitated throughout the day on the schedule document.  This year the #edcampphilly team added shared Google Docs for each session so that participants could take notes together during and after the sessions.  You can find those on the schedule, as well. (great idea!)  Here are some thoughts about the sessions that I attended.

Session 1: Taking Genius Global - facilitated by Angela Maiers

The conversation in @AngelaMaiers session "Taking Genius Global" was inspirational.  Her passion for giving children a place, a "global refrigerator," to post projects about which they have a passion is powerful.  I am awed by the stories of how the global connection that is afforded us by current technologies allows for students' visions of change in the world to become reality.  As I listened and participated in the conversation with Angela, it became clear to me that we have the opportunity to provide children with the connections that would normally only be found at $1000 a plate cocktail fundraisers.  The ability to connect with people who have the means to make projects and dreams a reality is right there in the palm of our hands (literally)!  Please take a moment to check out the Choose2Matter website and find out how you can get involved.  Here is the link to the Google Doc from the session.  There are a number of great resource links in it.  Thank you Angela, it was inspirational. You Matter!

Session 2: Preventing the Zombie Apocalypse - facilitated by Gerald Aungst

The presentation and conversation led by @geraldaungst was clever and apropos.  While there is a fascination with the fictional Zombie Apocalypse (The Walking Dead, etc.), it is clear that we can foster this same, very real, phenomenon in our schools and classrooms if we do not engage students.  When we as teachers cause/allow them to disengage, we are part of the virus that creates those zombies.  A strong discussion ensued around several key questions:

Should teachers be entertainers?
Who owns the engagement? Students? Teachers? Admins? etc.?
What is the difference between "instructors" and "teachers"?
Are those students engaged who are just chasing GPAs?

Gerald caused us to truly think about so many things surrounding the topic of engagement even beyond those questions.  The room was very lively with discussion.  We also learned about the "diseases" of Elementitis and Aboutitis which are discussed in David Perkins' book Making Learning Whole. If you want some additional insight into this session, check out the Google Doc with shared notes.

I mention lunch because it is such a worthwhile time to spend with colleagues discussing the morning sessions and a whole host of other topics.  Enjoying food and conversation is a great way to learn and grow together.

Session 3: PBL in the K-5 Classroom (What does it look like? How does it happen? What are the tech tools to use?) - facilitated by Diana Potts

This discussion led by @pottsedtech helped to highlight the planning and thought processes needed to adapt Project Based Learning to elementary school content and students.  Diana highlighted the need to have a "driving question" to guide the work. Additionally, the discussion touched on Wiggins' UBD concepts and working with a backward design.  What is your desired outcome? --- How do we get there?  She shared a great resource for all things PBL, the Bucks Institute for Education.  One of my big takeaways from this session was the following:
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I Need that Watch!!

I remember a TV movie from 1980 called The Girl, The Gold Watch, and Everything. It starred Robert Hays (Ted Styker from Airplane) and Pam Dawber (Mindy from Mork and Mindy).  To be clear, it was a hokey movie at best and really wasn't very memorable except for the premise, which involved the main character inheriting a watch that allowed him to stop time for everyone but himself!


Have you ever felt like you had so many things going on at once that you would never get them all done?  I have been a Principal for over a decade so I am very familiar with juggling numerous things and managing many deadlines, but I have to say that I have never really found the right formula for getting it all done efficiently.  It all gets finished and usually finished pretty well, but not without angst and stress.


I know I'll never get it, but I have to dream.  Don't get me wrong I have employed many different types of
systems.  Before the higher tech ones I used notebooks, binders, color coding, white boards, etc.  Now that we have mobile devices I use things like Evernote, Wunderlist, email, Google Apps, etc.  But, I want something more magical!


Since I understand that I will likely not get one of those watches, I ask you: What do you do to keep organized and stay on track?  Do you have a system?  Do you have a program?  Do you have a plan?  Do you have any good advice?  This post is mainly for venting about the many things that are going on right now including a 50th Anniversary Celebration for my school, NJ State Testing, and all of the normal things that go along with school administration in the Spring (Annual Evals, budget, staffing, etc. etc. etc.)  All of this stuff is part of the gig and I love it, but this is my space for writing about this stuff.  Teachers and administrators all feel the heat during the last month and a half of the school year, and I am sure that I am preaching to the choir.

So, as I mentioned:


But, unless you have one of those, can you share with me what you use to keep it all straight.  If you have never commented on my blog before, this is the time I ask you to consider commenting.

I leave you with one of my favorite exchanges from one of my favorite films; Shakespeare in Love.

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. 
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do? 
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well. 
Hugh Fennyman: How? 
Philip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery. 

It will all get done. Thanks!

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

#TCRWP - Cornelius Minor Session on the BYOT Movement

This is another post with my notes from a session I attended at the March 9th Teachers College Readers and Writers Project Saturday Reunion.  This session took place in the afternoon and was conducted by Cornelius Minor.  It was entitled, "That's the Way of the World: The Bring-Your-Own-Technology Movement and What It Means for Reading and Writing Workshops."

First let me say that Cornelius Minor is a fascinating guy and you can get more insight into his work and passions on his blog: Kass&Corn.  As I mentioned in my last post on #TCRWP, I am fond of the bullet point when I take notes. The notes begin with some background and information regarding the movement and then some practical ideas for implementing, starting, and fostering use of technology in Workshop and beyond.  I have cleaned up the notes a bit, but they are mainly in their raw form.  My comments are at the end.  If you
have any questions or would like to discuss further, please leave a comment.
Cornelius Minor

  • What is the BYOT Movement?
    • The movement has always been around
    • Socrates had a stick and that was high tech at the time
    • Movement has begun to shift from legislating what comes into the classroom to building teaching around it
    • Modern BYOT has been around for about 5 years
    • The Digital Divide has been changed by mobile devices
      • There are more ways to have access
    • It is important that kids know how to leverage the technology they have (xbox?, etc.)
    • Those who know how to use tech tools well are the most economically successful in our current economy
    • Who you are as an economic being is cemented by age 14
      • Producer
      • Consumer
    • We need to invite technology into our classrooms so we can help teach kids how to use it so they can go out and feed their families
    • We need policy to shift  to relieve teachers of the legal responsibility for student devices if brought in for BYOT
  • Resources and steps
    • Get smart on using various items
      • cell phones
      • tablets
      • Google Suite of applications
      • blogging
    • Do schools have a point person for all of this stuff?
    • We should be thinking about hiring people who know how to "speak the digital language."
    • We have to have a decent classroom culture in place
    • We have to have high expectations in place
    • We need to welcome kids to our classes with their devices
      • How do I get the devices out of pockets and onto desks and back?
        • This is basic classroom management - but updated!
        • Should take 3-4 days to teach
    • Make sure you have a way to reach each child
      • Many districts have student email addresses
      • If not, collect them.
    • Make sure kids know how to check email
      • mini-lesson
      • assignment
    • Make sure kids understand that the work of tech in the classroom has wider implications in the outside world
    • The idea is not for everyone to have "one of those" devices
      • It is to know how to get access to "one of those"
      • "Part of teaching technology is teaching the hustle"
    • Curricular Stuff
      • 1st 5-8 days are more procedural and cultural than curricular in a BYOT program
  • How does tech find its way into the workshops we discuss each day?
    • Writing
      • In the traditional analog version, the process is thus:
        • collecting - 4-6 days
        • rehearsal/draft - 1-2 days
        • revision - 4-6 days
        • editing - 4-6 days
        • publish/share - 1 day
      • In the technological version:
        • publishing/sharing is the most important thing
          • How can i position that published piece in the world so that people this kid cares about have access to it? (younger kids = teacher, older kids = peers, etc.)
            • Teacher blog?
              • post student work
              • get it in the world
              • parents need to sign a form
        • C. Minor feels that the best thing he has done is to publish his kids to the world.
        • Don't "select the best work" to go online
          • There is no community in that
        • Publish 3 pieces per month
          • provides consistency for student and readers
          • 3 imperfect attempts is better than one perfect attempt
            • Learning is in the attempts
        • Use pseudonyms for writing
          • then only those who know the pseudonym (classmates, families, etc.) know who wrote the piece
            • greater safety
            • targeted audience
Time ran out on the session; I could have participated for several more hours in this discussion.  Cornelius Minor helped me to see that BYOT is not simply a high school idea that does not translate to elementary schools.  As an elementary principal I am seeing more and more children come to school with some sort of device (eReader, smartphone, iPod touch, handheld games with wifi, etc.) and I hear stories of their game systems, computers, and devices at home.  With all of this technology at their fingertips, it seems almost wasteful to ignore the potential of using them for greater learning opportunities.

Recently, I listened to my daughter and her friends at her 7th birthday party discussing how I should put the video I was taking on YouTube.  They commented that it would probably get 100 hits or 1000 hits and they would be famous!  This idea of "being out there" on the Internet is the modern version of mom and dad posting our work on the refrigerator for all who visit the house to see our accomplishments when we were kids.  The suggestions that Cornelius Minor provided in this session were practical and safe ways to do this.  

As educators we need to use the tools at our disposal to continually improve the way that we meet our educational goals while connecting with the modern child.  This is not to say that at times Socrates writing in the dirt with his stick is not effective; however, I believe that if Socrates had access to what we do, he would have taken his questioning digital.

Once again, if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

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