Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An Attitude of Gratitude: Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

I woke up this morning with the normal excitement of the approaching Thanksgiving holiday. I looked forward to a day at school before a long weekend to relax and celebrate with family and friends. Little did I know that I would leave tonight with a renewed sense of purpose, passion and priorities because of the experiences provided to me by our amazing staff and students. 

The morning began by being immersed in an Author's Cafe set in Paris. Students shared writing projects and breakfast with parents and special visitors. What writers! The hard work and revision was evident in each piece. Next door, teams of students were being challenged to create their own colonies to see who could survive. This required collaboration, planning and risk taking by both the students and the teacher, and not to mention amazing effort! 

As the day unfolded, I quickly transformed from principal to news reporter showcasing the amazing things happening in our building. Teachers most definitely provided uncommon experiences which evoked uncommon effort and attitude from each and every student. Not only were each of these classroom activities directly tied to curriculum objectives, but students and teachers were deeply engaged and having fun! And the best thing was that this day was not a planned building "Holiday" as we've done in the past. It truly just happened because of the creativity and hard work of our teachers. This is the way we do business at our school. We teach, learn and lead like PIRATEs every day at McIntire Elementary.

I ventured across the hall, where students were given a set amount of money to plan a Thanksgiving meal. What an authentic way of practicing decimal skills! They were furiously working with a partner to comb local advertisements to create delicious meals and spend every penny! I think students were a little shocked at how expensive it is to plan a big meal! My morning walk continued as I went into another classroom. Students had the task of writing in the time of the Pilgrims, complete with period dialect and special "aged" paper. As I hit the hallway again, the "Mission Impossible" theme song filled my ears. The next classroom had been transformed into the colonial period and teams of students had been challenged to design and build a replica shelter that would have been found during this time period.

Our kindergarten and first graders transformed our cafetorium into the first Thanksgiving feast. The students learned about working together and gratitude after the amazing model being set forth by their teachers. The smiles, hugs and thankful hearts helped to remind me what a wonderful world we really live in, despite all of the negativity we see in the daily news.

As the feast concluded, I headed back to the hallway. I was definitely not disappointed as I moved into second grade classrooms. A food "hook" awaited me in one room as students were churning their own butter! Next door, students were designing and making trading jewelry as they had learned about in their Native American unit-what energy! And the best thing...these amazing eight year olds gave me the full run down of the the purpose and importance of what they were doing! They owned their learning fully and completely!

I was welcomed to a fourth grade publishing party. Students eagerly and passionately shared stories with me. I didn't want to leave, but knew that lunch duty was calling. So many don't enjoy this time, but I have to tell you, it is so GREAT to have time to talk with kids, connect and build rapport. It's also a time for our students to see how we all work together to serve meals, clean tables, and synergize as a staff. I was also blessed during the lunch period to welcome and celebrate community members that volunteer to help with our Box Tops collection. We are very lucky to have so many to help support our school.

Back to classrooms in the afternoon and I was continually amazed at the levels of student engagement--on the day before break, no less! Every day is a day of learning for our students! I witnessed third graders taking over the teaching in the classroom. More food hooks and taking time to reflect on thankfulness. Building flashlights in fourth grade and sound effect storytelling. I could literally go on and on and on. 

My day concluded by recognizing our positive referrals for the day with a principal dance party and then sending off our students with high fives and smiles as they headed home for a long Thanksgiving break. It was an amazing ending to an amazing day!

As a principal it is so easy to let the noise of our profession get louder than the main thing, which are the awesome experiences happening in our schools to support learning. The main thing doesn't happen in the principal's office, it happens LIVE throughout our buildings all day long. Today was a reminder of so much for this principal. Get out of the office! Take time to BE in classrooms and immersed with students and learning experiences. Celebrate growth, risk taking and hard work. Tell your school's story for all to see. Support and lend a hand to staff. Stop, smile, talk, listen and enjoy the people around you. And most importantly, work to build a culture of gratitude, not just at Thanksgiving, but all year.  I am truly blessed to work with students and staff that go above and beyond each day to make the world a better place. Thank you for making a difference in my life and teaching me how to keep the focus on the main thing.

Below some of the snapshots captured from our amazing day. Check out our school Facebook page for more pictures or follow @McIntireElem and @BethHouf on Twitter

French Author's Cafe
Colonial SURVIVOR!

Creating jewelry to trade.

Together is better.

Colonial writing

Planning our meal
Sound effect story telling.
Publishing party

Mission Impossible?? No way!
Becoming teachers!
Making butter!

Still surviving!
We are thankful for...

Thank you for supporting our school!

Making storytelling bracelets!

Learning about the 1st Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The BEST DAY EVER: Why Every Principal Should Take Time to Substitute in the Classroom

One of the things I love the most about being a principal is the variety and uncertainty that each day brings. Today was definitely no different. I begin to receive the daily substitute reports at 5:30 am. Today's did not look promising-three subs short and no one available to call. By the time I got to school it was evident that I would be teaching full time today. And then I knew it was going to be the BEST DAY EVER!

I put on my principal coat to do morning duty and the word was already out on the street! Kids looked a little worried and parents had big smiles on their faces. Teachers reminded me to go to the bathroom now while I had the chance. I shifted gears when the bell rang and headed to the classroom. I had already taken time to drop off my bag of tricks and treats.
This hook awaited them as they walked in....


Now...I know that many of you have been wondering about the whole PIRATE thing. I promise you that I am not into the bad pirates--blood thirsty robbers. However, I'm crazy about a different kind of PIRATE philosophy. Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess has been a definite game changer for me. I have literally read thousands of educational books, but this one is different. It's all about how to set student engagement through the roof! I use a lot of the ideas from the book through leadership, but I was ready to try them out on kids all day long. I was PUMPED UP and ready to go!

We started with a buzz of energy trying to figure out where the teacher could be and the shock of having the principal as the substitute. I used this to my advantage as I introduced the first step of being a PIRATE to the kids: Passion. We met together for a "Hornet Huddle" class meeting and I asked the kids to think about what they are passionate about the most. I wanted to do a little team building and have a chance for me to figure out how I could better teach them throughout my time in their classroom. It was so great to hear all of the different passions that the kids have, from reading to football to music and math. I also shared my passions with the kids. They loved to hear about my passion for learning, books, Hawaii and exercise. 

Our Passions

We finished up our huddle and off to specials. I gave them another teaser of what may be happening when they returned to the classroom and away we went. Whew! Time to refill the coffee and get ready to keep them engaged in learning! I wanted to be sure that if given a choice, the kids would WANT to be in the classroom with me. 

The morning was a blur as we did more team building activities and reading. I had the chance to sit and listen to each student read and ask questions to check comprehension. We also did some very fun vocabulary activities to learn our words through movement. I can guarantee you that everyone in our class definitely understands what vote and wait means for sure! 

Before we knew it, time for LUNCH! We took a minute to stretch out and do a brain break before we ate. Wipeout was the song that won the vote and we definitely showed off our dance moves. Heads cleared and stomachs growling, we were off to lunch! 

I scarfed down my food and a little more caffeine and I was back at it ready to go! Read aloud with a special book from Hawaii, which was a passion I had shared with the kids. Time for math....and I could tell it was going to be a tough sell. The after-lunch nap attack had definitely hit the kids. So we got moving. We counted like pirates, we added like pirates, we made ballpark estimates like pirates, we moved and danced and sang until we truly understood the math concepts. The best comment from this time of the day was..."Wow Mrs. Houf, you are like a real teacher!" Priceless!

The remainder of the day was filled with writing creative stories about why their teacher wasn't at school and sharing out to their peers. They gave specific feedback to each other and made revisions and can't wait to showcase their creativity with their teacher tomorrow when she returns. 
The Missing Teacher Mystery

Sharing our creative writing with our peers.

Giving feedback on writing.
We had a friend that had a bout of writer's block and he got very upset. It lent itself into our final activity of the day, The Power of Yet.
This was one that I brought in myself taking advantage of a teachable moment. Kids (and adults for that matter) seem to think that everything has to be perfect on the first try. We are working so hard at our school this year to promote risk taking and "thinking outside the box." Students took time to write down three things that they can't do....YET! We put together a short video of those here:

What an amazing day! It made me realize the importance of our school leaders staying involved and engaged in all that is expected of our classroom teachers. Every principal should take time periodically to sub one full day in a classroom. It keeps you grounded, reminds you to stay current in practices and strategies and helps build relationships with students. It was an exhilarating, exhausting, engaging day for this guest teacher. I truly tried to provide an uncommon experience for the students I was so lucky to teach and was definitely rewarded with UNCOMMON effort and attitude. It truly was the BEST DAY EVER!

Monday, November 3, 2014

November Newsletter

Welcome to a new month and new quarter! Our November Newsletter can be found by clicking HERE. There are many exciting learning plans for November at McIntire Elementary.

No Worksheet Holiday
"Day of Creativity"

Our first No Worksheet Holiday was a success! I will devote a whole blog to the fantastic learning and teaching that was happening on this day. Here are a few "sneak peek" pictures of our scientists!