Grants, Budgets, Numbers, Spreadsheets vs. Family Engagement

So I want to be less cryptic about my current position. As mentioned last week, I am the Family Engagement Coordinator. As such, I support schools’ efforts to engage families in meaningful, authentic learning experiences. Family engagement goes beyond inviting families to school for meals and student performances. While that certainly is one component of creating a welcoming environment, family engagement really focuses on “doing with” families—teaching families how to support and continue their child’s learning outside of the school building; sharing decision making with families about school direction; providing opportunities for families to interact with the school during the school day; the list goes on. As the coordinator, I help school staff further cultivate their current initiatives and offer suggestions for new opportunities. It taps into my drive to lead professional learning and communicating. I certainly love it!

 

Another facet of my job is managing a specific grant for after school programming. When I first started this job, I looked forward to the management side. However, I did not realize how much I WOULD LOVE IT! The fulfillment of writing, rewriting, number crunching, researching, analyzing, reviewing, editing, and so forth came quickly and naturally.   The joy of this work was unexpected but I welcomed it. I often compare it to a giant puzzle piecing together a dynamic portrait of a successful after school program. Currently, the grant is at midyear evaluation submitting data for program success and documentation of accurate accounting and spending. Oddly, this part is equally (if, I dare not say, actually more) exciting as the original writing and submission.

 

While my job has multiple parts beyond managing a grant and supporting engagement, it is these two parts that have truly captured me. Today, I cannot tell you which of the two I like best because I love it all. But if forced to choose just one today, I would say I am a fan of puzzles. But tomorrow, when hearing a family engagement success story, I’d say, ”I love my job!”

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Many, many changes

A LOT has happened over the last year.  I celebrated my son’s adoption.  My school had an awesome Read Across America week.  But most importantly, my family moved.

I no longer live in North Carolina nor work for Wake County Public School System (WCPSS).  I truly enjoyed my brief stint in WCPSS because the school was, and remains to this day, phenomenal.  The students, families, and staff at Abbotts Creek Elementary School are top notch.  It’s a true family in every sense of the word.  I miss seeing the many smiling faces every day but I am where I need to be.

Focusing on family makes my job more profound.  I am now a Family Engagement Coordinator supporting family engagement initiatives within Title I schools.  Working at the school district offices is completely different.  The focus is student learning only from a different lens. This past week, I got to visit classrooms reading some of my favorite stories to elementary students.  The teacher in me was thrilled and I got way more energy from it than the students did from my few minutes reading to them.  However, I know my current mission.  I accept it.  I cherish it.  I know my previous positions, schools, and school systems have readied me for my current profession.  I hold onto and will continue to tell people “I am a teacher” because I am.

The old joke, “you can take the X out of Y but not the Y out of X” rings true.  You can take me out of the school but my vision is clear.  I work to support and ensure schools work towards their mission.  More to come, I promise.

Collaboration = Convergence of Ideas

I have written about Convergence before. It’s a 2-day professional development conference sponsored by my current school district, Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS). The name is not happenstance.

Dictionary.com defines the act of converging as meeting “in a point or line; inclin[ing] towards each other, as lines that are not parallel.”   WCPSS Convergence brings together library media and technology teachers across the vast school system to share with and learn from each other. It is clear Spring Convergence 2017 is focused on collaboration.

Almost every session I attended today used collaboration as its core whether the collaboration was virtual (Google Drive & Classroom) or the keynote address by Chris Barton and Don Tate about their collaborative efforts in creating the book Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions.

I, too, presented about collaboration with my “batty” partner-in-crime, Krista Brinchek. Krista and I collaborated on a unit with 4th and 5th graders. Students learned about bat conversation and white nose syndrome in Science specials class with Mrs. Brinchek. In library, students learned how to conduct research, determine important information, cite resources, and use Google Classroom while researching general information about bats and their habitats. Our unit hit the next level when Christy Bigelow, technology teacher, incorporated 3-D modeling having students create 3-D models of bats using geometric shapes.

Today’s presentation, titled “Does Collaboration Make You ‘Batty’?” was fun to create and present because my collaborative partners make it so. We allow each other to dream an idea then help one another bring the idea to fruition. Part of today’s session allowed attendees the opportunity to think about and note drivers and barriers to collaboration. It is clear collaboration can happen within any organization if adults allow it.   Teachers are not silos. They work best in groups holding each other accountable and pushing one another outside of comfortable spaces. The session ended with an opportunity for attendees to share their successful collaboration stories. This was my chance to learn from those to whom I had been presenting. I now have ideas to implement!

As the name implies, I believe Convergence is about building relationships, trusting others, and bending my instruction to others’ best practices and successes. My presentation is linked here for you to view. If you have any collaboration ideas, and especially if you have success stories to share or how you overcame barriers, please share in the comments below. I want to continue my learning.

Photo credit:  @stacydarwin

International Women’s Day–Ode to Sharon Creech (or why I love Walk Two Moons)

Today is International Women’s Day. Across the globe there were marches and demonstrations. Social Media profiles turned red. A recent trend I’ve seen emerge on Twitter has been libraries and book stores either removing from the shelves or turning around books with only male characters or by male authors to highlight the gender disparity in publishing. This trend coincides a recent School Library Journal article about librarian rock stars that happen to be male.

I am an elementary librarian. This is a female dominated profession. Yet, through my white male privilege, I see the need for more diversity in children’s literature. Diverse literature includes books written by authors and featuring main characters of many backgrounds and experiences.

So on this International Women’s Day, I want to write about one of my favorite authors and my absolute favorite book of all time. This author and my favorite book’s main character are both strong female role models. My students know my favorite book is Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.

The Newbery Award winning book follows the journey of Sal as she retreads a trip taken by her mother. We learn in the course of the book that her mother, feeling trapped, needed to venture on her own and learn more about herself. Without giving away too much of the story*, the journey does not have the ending any character foresaw. But the journey mattered. Yet, what I note that matters most to Sal as the book progresses to its end is what Sal learns.

She learns:

  • who she is as a person, daughter, and friend
  • that she is loved but also she must love and forgive others
  • she is a strong, independently minded person

This book has many layers and pulling back one layer only uncovers a deeper mystery or message that characters and readers learn alike.   As a classroom teacher, I read this book aloud to my students at the beginning of the year. We used the title as a metaphor to learn more about each other and walk in their shoes. Throughout the reading of this book and through our class discussions, I learned which students expressed empathy and which would need to learn how to be more empathetic. This book always brought my students and I together as a community who would spend a year learning and growing together.

Sharon Creech is an amazing author. I have been lucky to read many of her books and hear her speak at the National Book Festival sponsored by the Library of Congress. The first time I heard her present at the Festival, she spoke to me. After a long day of presenting and signing autographs, I imagine that the last thing she wanted to do was speak to a fan boy. But there she was walking to her car while I was heading to the Metro. I saw her and introduced myself. She listened as I told her that I had the job as a school librarian in Arlington, Virginia in part to her. At the time, my personal email address was a derivative of her book title. The library supervisor noted my email and was certain I knew children’s literature. Telling Ms. Creech this story, she smiled and seemed genuinely pleased I had shared it with her.

During one of her presentations, she spoke about her publisher calling her particular writing style “Creechian”. This is true. All of her books speak to me in many ways. While Walk Two Moons holds my heart in a way I cannot quite express, I love, appreciate, and can relate to her other books and characters. The playwright Leo in Replay, Florida and Dallas (and more importantly, Tiller and Sairy) in Ruby Holler, Jack, Annie, Rosie, Bailey, Phoebe, Sal, the list goes on and on…While reading her books, these characters become friends and family to me. I cry when they cry. I hurt when they hurt. I laugh when they laugh. This is what I believe is the “Creechian” style. Ms. Creech’s realistic fiction novels invite me into their worlds not as an omniscient reader but as a living, breathing observer of the heartaches, belly laughs, life lessons, and celebrations in each book.

While many libraries have pulled books off the shelves to visually showcase the male dominated world of literature, I would struggle if ever asked to pull Sharon Creech’s books. It would be taking a familiar photo off a wall and putting it in a drawer. Luckily, Ms. Creech is a fierce, strong female writing books about fierce, strong characters. Luckily, my students and I get to enjoy all her work now and for years to come.

*Really, if you have not already read Walk Two Moons, I cannot help if spoilers come your way. More importantly, stop reading this blog post immediately and read the book!

Happy School = Successful School?

One of the key processes for our School Improvement Plan involves cultivating a more positive and welcoming school environment for all stakeholders (students, parents, staff, and community). I started contemplating that key process while sitting in our latest School Improvement Team (SIT) meeting reviewing our school data.

Last week, our school celebrated Read Across America with a weeklong Dr. Seuss spirit week. Each day had a different book and theme for spirit wear. The hallways were covered in handmade Seuss inspired decorations and student work. It was a week filled with laughter, reading, Seuss related silliness, and good times. Our school always seems like a happy place but last week, the happiness ratcheted up to an eleven!

While the SIT members talked numbers and data, I pondered if happy schools equate to successful schools.

The answer relies on one’s definition of success and how that success is measured.

Dictionary.com attributes success to attaining honors or achieving favorable accomplishments of goals. Given this definition than our school is successful in that key process based upon the events of last week. Our school was certainly inviting and welcoming. Community members served as mystery guest readers. Parents and family members attended the end of week Dr. Seuss Book Character Parade. Students and staff dressed in a variety of silly (and sometimes head shaking) wardrobe choices. It was hard to find a student, staff member, or visitor not smiling last week. Thus, our happy school equaled a successful school.

But is that enough? Have we created a truly sustaining welcoming, positive climate? I wanted to know more.   During my research I did not find any articles similar in scope to how I think our SIT interprets the key process of cultivating a more positive and welcoming environment. I think I found blog posts that could provide us a clear direction. However, I am not sure. We are still a new school that is crafting traditions. We enjoyed a honeymoon period last year and are settling into our routines and persona this year. Maybe our school is well beyond the articles I read. Or maybe we can glean some wisdom and apply their suggestions to our shared vision of what a positive school culture is at our school. I do not know. I enjoy learning from others. Some this advice comes from principals, some advice is not entirely earth shatteringly new, but I found these articles to be insightful and worthy of documenting for later use.

Focused on relationships, these 8 processes are based on the Boys Town educational model.

Edutopia (you know I am a big fan) gives us this article addressing the power of optimism and its effects on school climate and student success.

Connected Principals focuses this post on tips educational leaders can do to create a happy work climate for all staff.

Finally, Education World looks at what a school can do to create a “welcoming” environment from the moment one steps onto the school grounds.

Each of these articles looks at different aspects of culture. As I currently sit and reflect typing this post, I realize we are meeting our key process. But I also know we need to do more. Each of these posts, and for that matter, all we have done as a school so far has been directed to what happens at school and from those who come into our building. But a positive and welcoming school environment involves meeting families where they are. Many times that is in their neighborhoods, church and community centers, and other areas outside school grounds.

So I guess I am back to my original question. We are a happy school. Does that automatically mean we are successful one too?

The Librarian without a Voice 😷

Earlier this week, I succumbed to the “ick”. That is the technical term that I, without one day of medical training, have given the virus going around. The ick is not quite the flu virus but something different from a cold. For me, it felt between a head cold with cough and springtime allergies. I never felt sick or tired. I just would have coughing fits and a runny now. The worse symptom of all was a weak voice.

So there I was at school Thursday morning with a pocketful of Ricola cough drops. I thought I was doing well until I opened my mouth to welcome students entering the school.   The sound I emitted was not quite a squeak but certainly not a voice I’ve heard before. Throughout the morning I sounded as if I were once again experiencing the vocal change of my early teen years.

I learned a few things about my instruction on Thursday.

  1. Students want teachers to level with them and speak with them not to them.

I was honest about my voice and told my students that if I spoke quietly, all was good. I reminded them of the procedures and expectations then asked for their help. They all spoke quietly and regrouped immediately when asked.

  1. PBIS works!

For those who do not know, PBIS stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support. My school has taught and practiced the procedures and expectations. After winter break, we retaught and practiced again. I admit that I have spoken negatively about the focus on the extrinsic rewards earning PBIS tickets (ours are called Gator bites). But when it comes to being a community following expectations, PBIS works amazingly. My students knew when to raise their hands, how to move safely throughout the library, and most importantly, how to show respect for each other, themselves, and me.

  1. My lessons do not work well without me leading them.

This is a tough lesson to learn. I want students to be at the center of their instruction. That is the reason for instituting the 20Time project. Yet, this project is new to my students and me. This week, we were at the pivotal step of selecting projects and determining timelines and strategies. I tried to plan around my speaking by typing directions and guiding questions for students to discuss in groups. This worked well but I could tell my students kept waiting for me to lead the discussion. I have not instituted enough student led discussions for them to yet have ownership. I need to do so for their sake and mine. I resisted the urge to interrupt and take over the conversations. Instead, I put another Ricola in my mouth and pointed to the timer and guiding questions for discussions. After a few minutes of awkward conversations, little by little table groups began having true discussions.

The day wasn’t pretty and I certainly did not teach my best lessons. But I got through it. All teachers have experienced this day before. It’s what we do with the lessons learned that matters. I learned that while my voice is back, next week, I plan to point to the timer and guiding questions again as students start their work. I want to step back and give my students ownership of their projects. Although weakly voiced, I think the best thing I said on Thursday was this: “I can’t answer that question or give you advice. Students, what do you think? I’m afraid if I say anything it will be exactly what the project should be or what I think it should be. And that will be what he does. It’s his project. What ideas do you have for him? He needs to hear from you, not me.”

SeussicalACES

Abbotts Creek Elementary School (ACES) has gone full Seussical! The level of excitement among the teachers reminds me of when I was a kid the week leading up to Christmas. Every day, turning the Advent calendar date one day closer to December 25 I felt anticipation growing. I felt lighter and happier. I now have this same feeling leading up to our Dr. Seuss Spirit Week.

ACES is still new—just opening last school year. We are still creating traditions. Last year, prior to Read Across America coinciding with Dr. Seuss’ birthday, I asked for a committee to help plan a few events. My previous schools have had guest readers and a focus on reading books written by Seuss. My last school always had a Dr. Seuss character parade. So I was expecting something along those lines when the committee first met.

But they surprised me! They wanted more. It was a mesh of traditions and ideas from the various past schools for which we all worked. The day became a weeklong celebration of reading, fun, and silliness. It was a true spirit week dressing up each day. Classes created beautiful, amazing hallway displays of work relating to Dr. Seuss and his books.

This year, that tradition continues but it has grown. Teachers are competing for the best class displays. Each day, our spirit days pair with a Dr. Seuss book. Students will read an excerpt from each book during the school news. I am not sure how the parade can get “bigger and better” than last year’s but I feel like it just might. I overhear students and teachers whisper about their Dr. Seuss character. Facebook is full of staff tagging each other as they find Dr. Seuss themed items at stores. By the number of trips teachers are making, ACES may single-handedly help the nearest Michael’s and Party City make their rents this month.

The Dr. Seuss books are gone! And better than that is students coming to the library asking for some of the less famous Dr. Seuss books that we do not own. “Why don’t we?” is often the reply when I tell them we do not have the requested book.

Tomorrow morning, students and parents will arrive at ACESville. Each day, we will laugh, play, learn, and celebrate the silly. We will read. We will connect books and learning to our daily lives. We will celebrate the life’s work of a talented author/illustrator. We will have fun. This is how school should be. We are #SeussicalACES!