Thursday, June 7, 2018

The End and the Beginning

This year marks not only the end of a year, but the end of an era at my school. After 100 years, our doors are closing. This summer, a brand new school is being built. I will be moving to that school next year. 

It felt weird packing up my classroom and moving things out. This school has been my home for the past eight years. My own babies started at this school and now will be going into 5th and 3rd grades. Locking my classroom door for the last time and turning in my keys seemed sad somehow.  There are just so many memories of this place.

I do look forward to the new school. It brings new opportunities. New challenges. It is stretching me to grow and learn. I am spending lots of time learning new techniques and mastering my craft. 

We will be using a Reggio method in the lower grades. We will also incorporate project and service based learning. I am excited to see what the new year holds. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Ron Clark Experience Day 2

I was excited to make my way back to the Ron Clark Academy...and when I arrived there on my second day, my phone's message told me I had arrived at work. Maybe it knows something I don't know. 😉

We were quickly ushered into the gym where the students were waiting and we were divided into houses. We quickly learned the house chant and practiced it. Then after a little while, we performed it, with the students, for the rest of the school. After all the chants were done, we watched a short show from the RCA step team. They were really good. 

Then it was time, again, for another general session with Ron Clark. His talks are always filled with humor and are so engaging. He spoke to us all about attitudes. You don't have to give negative people power. Think of them as a piece of salt. Let them blow away after they walk away (no matter how negative the encounter with them was). YOU have the power to choose if you have a negative or a positive experience. Do you want to see the negatives about your school, your work, or your life? Or do you want to see the positives. That was a powerful reminder. You can actually change your mindset, depending on what you choose to focus on. 

Ron also spoke a lot about creating parent connections. It begins by learning the names of all of the parents and people involved in the students' lives. At RCA, they even go so far as to be tested on the names of all family members. But imagine coming into a school where the teachers and staff know not just the student names, but also those of their family. That is amazing! It is just one extra thing that shows how much they care. 

Another way that students at the Ron Clark Academy connect with families is that they are required to do home visits. He gives tips for things you should do while on a home visit. Also, he encourages all teachers to send a beginning of the year postcard and call with positives. Parents are not used to getting positive feedback, generally speaking. When everything is going well, teachers tend to do nothing and say nothing. But when teachers do make a phone call, many times it is for something negative. He talked about how parents tend to check out when they get too many negative calls and it doesn't make a difference in the students, instead it backfires by making parents see the teacher as the problem, not the student. 

I appreciate that Ron did talk about how to handle parent problems, focusing on de-escalating them, instead of making matters worse. Teaching is have to draw a wall around your hearts and keep the people you love most right there. You can't allow the profession you have chosen to break your is everything and they must be first. Don't tell your spouse the worst of your day. Focus on the positive. Then put the problem people in your head and shake it off....people can be crazy.

Ron spoke about different types of people. They are represented by the following: 

Runners: People who go above and beyond. They don't complain. They are humble. You are a runner when you work to lift others up.

Joggers: They do their jobs but want attention for what they do. They complain. They talk about how hard their job is. 

Walkers: These workers are pulled by the bus. They complain about everything....EVERYTHING. They handle situations in the worst possible way and have no work ethic. 

Riders: These workers are ingrained in the culture because they do nice things for the clientele, but they don't do their job. 

Praise the runners. Their deserve praise, validation, cheer, and support. That's when you create a revolution.

Next up was Kim Bearden. She hosted a workshop about her new upcoming book, Talk to Me. She outlined 6 principles for communication: I took a lot of notes on this one because it felt so valuable. But briefly, the principles are: 
1. consideration
2. motivation
3. appreciation
4. validation
5. conversation
6. celebration

These tips were really invaluable in helping people feel valued, even in the midst of feeling angry. It helps take the pressure off their anger from you and allows you to work together for a solution.

Next, we went to Mrs. Barnes room. I did not get to see her teach, but I loved her room, which was decorated like a music room or coffee shoppe. She had a Q&A session. It was interesting to find out all about the inner workings of RCA. I especially found it interesting that they do not have a set schedule of the week. Each week, the teachers turn in a schedule request and from there the classes are divided up. It was also eye-opening to find out that they do not have substitute teachers. If another teacher is gone for a day, whoever has a free period during that time steps in for the day. They truly feel like a team and even more, a family. I just loved the culture of the place.

Mrs. Barnes had a scripture verse listed in her room, but gave only the text, I had to go and look it up later. It was Hebrews 10:35-36. It says, "So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

After that, we went again to Hope King's (Alice in Wonderland themed) room for a workshop on engagement through the use of games. She challenged us with the fact that all over America students are not wanting to be there but are just surviving. What if our students went to school in an environment that they wanted to be in? Instead of giving all the power to standards and assessments, we want to give our students the attitude of a learner, not merely a survivor. We need to change the mindset about school. We WANT them to WANT to come to school. Hope uses a lot of engagement techniques to make students WANT to be there. One of the strategies she uses is games. The games are not just fun, but full of learning and rigor. She has some very specific rules for the games she chooses. 
1. No turns/ no outs...every child MUST play the entire time.
2. Higher Level: games should rely more on application of skill than on memorization.
3. Management: Kids are going to do what they are allowed to do, so set high expectations.

The next workshop was with Dr. Jones. She is one of the math teachers at RCA. She gave us a lot of information about free technology resources she uses in her classroom. I am going to try several of them. 

Dr. Jones talked about changing the student mindset when it comes to math. She said that 50% of math is how you feel about it. Instead of becoming discouraged over not knowing how to do a problem, students should think, What do I know about this problem that I can start with?

Mr. Thompson is the science teacher. He talked all about setting up expectations and rules. He also spoke about how the teachers at RCA use songs as memory devices for students to memorize content. It starts like this:
Students choose a song they like. The students write the song. Their job is to include the answers to the test in the song....get as many details into that song as they can. Once the students practice the song, be sure to point out how it can help them with the information. You will definitely see students using the song as they take their tests. They will retain the information forever. Songs are just that powerful!

At the end of the day, we had another workshop with Wade and Hope King. It was all about the culture and climate of the school. They said, "If you can't have fun at your job, why are you even doing it?" I completely agree. Some of their tips were:

*Make your room the place to be. 
*Think about that one thing you can do and do it. 
*Be unique; be who you are.
*We can't expect students to work together and be a team when they don't even know each other. 
*Mentoring students makes them feel like they mean something to somebody.
*Ask community members for help.

They ended with three things you can do that don't take time or money:
1. Smile
2. Passion
3. Enthusaism

Coins in the stairs from every country on, so cool!

The famous blue slide.

Love this so much!

How amazing is this school logo?

Can you imagine how students would feel passing by this every day? These are the 8th grade students that will be graduating.

Pictures and artwork is this Statue of Liberty.

This rainbow floor....Amazing!

What a great experience these two days were. I highly recommend this workshop to all teachers and principals.If you can find the funding...make it happen.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Ron Clark Academy Experience

For several years, I have been wanting to visit The Ron Clark Academy. I didn't know when or how I was going to make it happen, but I knew I needed an opportunity to see this place that I had only heard about from other people around the world on their blogs, Instagram accounts and Facebook. Well, today was finally my chance! Today was the first of a two day training at this school.

We did not know exactly what to expect as we arrived at the school. We were about 40 minutes early and there was already a huge crowd of people. (Later we counted the seats set up in the gym and found 650 chairs, most of which were filled.) After waiting to register, we got in line to start our day and head through the doors of the most magical school I've ever seen. 

As we were waiting, we were greeted and briefed by staff and well-spoken students who didn't seem to have any trouble mixing and mingling with the "educators" as they called us.
Upon entering the front doors, there was a party waiting. We were surrounded on both sides by two lines of students and staff members. We walked through the middle with them cheering us on, high-fiving and shaking hands too.

We gathered in the gym for an amazing talk from Ron Clark. He told his story and also how the school started. One of the things that stuck with me is that he talked about how students very rarely want to be teachers. He said, "Everyday, I want my students to look at me and think, 'I want to be a teacher...that looks so fun!" He explained the three pillars of their school:  
1. Student engagement: No child is invisible.
2. Rigor: Teach to the top and bring the others up.
3. Climate/Culture: Essential 55 rules.

When his talk was over, Kim Bearden came up to speak to us about our day and how it would go and then we were broken up into groups and sent off on our first classroom observation. My first stop was Ron Clark's room. We just walked in and I must admit, I was a bit confused. He was teaching math without talking and the kids were just following his actions and shouting out answers left and right. He was checking problems from atop the desks and as students got an answer right, they joined him up on top and checked the answers of other students too. What I noticed was that he kept switching the methods up. In the 20 minutes or so, we saw him use several different teaching strategies which kept the students involved and excited to learn. I noticed a lot of mental math skills. He would call out a problem like what is 38X6 and would have the students break it apart saying 30x6, 8x6, add them together...and the students would shout out the answer on his signal. Each math student also had a laser pointer. As they were using math talk to speak about the problem, they could use their pointer to point out a certain part. LOVED THOSE! Another strategy I saw was when he handed the board over to a student (suddenly) and expected her to just get up and teach where he left off. Afterward, the whole class critiqued the student on what she did well and what she could improve on. He had the students give the student teacher a grade. It was shocking to see how low they all scored her when the teachers all thought she had done fabulously...just goes to show how little we expect. He sees greatness in each student and expects nothing less.

My second classroom observation was Wade Kings' social studies class. The students were doing an activity with current events. They could choose any event that happened over the course of the school year. They had to represent the current event in a series of 4-6 hashtags. When all of the hashtags were written, the students would share them aloud with the class and the other teams would need to try to figure out what the current event was. It was interesting to observe the process up close as the students worked with their teams to come up with obscure hashtags that would point to the event but not reveal it completely, making it harder for the other teams to guess. The team I was working with was doing the Korean Nuclear event and when Trump met with the Korean leader. I was only able to stay for the writing of the hashtags. My teacher friend was in the next group and said that as they were reading out their hashtags, Wade would not let them just guess the answer, they had to try to interpret each clue. 

This is the amazing blue slide that is in the middle of the school, linking the top story with the bottom. At the end of the day, we were able to slide down it and become slide certified. 

One of the classrooms I most wanted to visit was Hope Kings. All of the teachers at RCA (The Ron Clark Academy) have freedom in choosing their classroom motif. Hope's room is decorated with an Alice in Wonderland theme. A few days before my trip, I saw that she was doing a room transformation that was a Toy Story theme and that she was incorporating S.T.E.AM. activities to keep up the rigor. I was so happy and surprised to see that she still had it going when I walked through the rabbit hole and into her room. 

There were giant rainbow-colored slinkies all over the ceiling and huge colorful Christmas lights too. She had created posters that looked like something Andy (from Toy Story) would have hanging in his room. There were large dice and also a few monkeys from the Barrel full of Monkeys game.  

Students were learning about the steps to solving a S.T.E.M. challenge and they were working, with Legos,  to create a marble maze. The were building and testing the mazes. They had to keep in mind that they should be challenging, but not too challenging. The mazes were to later be tested by other groups as well. 

She also had a large container of army men. I wondered what activity they had done, earlier, with those. 

In the early afternoon, we were given a snack and a drink. I got this cookie and it was also the house I chose...more about that later. 

There were beautiful pictures and artwork everywhere. One of my favorite displays was this wall where students' faces were inserted into the paintings of famous art from long ago. 

This huge dragon, graced the stairway right outside the gym. It was so great! What kid wouldn't want to be here with art like this?

At the end of the day, right before leaving, we were allowed to choose one of the houses. Each year, the fifth grade class spins a giant wheel that has the four houses on it. Wherever the wheel lands, that determines what house the student is in for the four years they are at RCA (the Ron Clark Academy). I chose the house called Reveur. The word is French, which is one reason why I chose it. I have a French heritage. Also, the word means dream and I am embracing that word because I have a lot a dreams about what next year will hold for me. We are creating a school from scratch. It is to be amazing and innovative. I dream about the impact this school will also have.

After choosing our teams, we wrapped up the day with popsicles and were able to head out. I look forward to tomorrow when I go back to RCA. This time, we will all be wearing our house shirts and I know that the day will be as amazing as today was.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Teacher Appreciation Week and Llama Fun

Happy teacher's appreciation week! I don't know about you, but I am feeling the love. I want to pass the love along with a little llama certificate that can be printed out and passed along to your students to celebrate their learning for the year. I also want to share my end of the year book that can be used to close out your school year.

Check out the freebie here.

Full set of certificates here:

End of the year memory album here

Full combo set with certificates and memory book here.

Thanks! And have a happy week!