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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