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.

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