Quick Win: Creating a Culture of Literacy

Before the students arrived, our faculty learned how to best prepare a classroom (and school) for students. Specifically, we looked at our classroom and common areas to promote reading and writing. Each teacher stated a personal goal that they would work toward regarding classroom libraries, bulletin boards, and relationship building.

Next are some images of our first-week successes in creating a culture of literacy.

 

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Students organizing classroom library books based on topics, genre, or author.

 

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Temporary labels as the students start to put groups of books in classroom library tubs.

 

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A teacher asking students to share something they want him to know about them.

 

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A digital portfolio station, in which students can publish their best work online for families.

 

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A blank bulletin board waiting for students and teacher to post excellent work on it.

 

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Students haven’t decided yet where these books belong. They will come back to these titles.

 

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More bins of books, waiting to be organized by the students and teacher.

 

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Students share ten fun facts about themselves in writing and post on a bulletin board.

 

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I get into the act, displaying several books in my office that represent our student body.

 

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This PreK read aloud center is also a space for students’ favorite books.

 

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There are too many piles and not enough bins, so…

 

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…the class has to decide which groups of books will need to be combined and how to label them.

 

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A classroom library is finally done. The students are excited to start reading.

 

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This teacher kept the students’ handmade labels on the classroom library tubs.

I think my favorite part of this schoolwide literacy experience is when my daughter came home complaining that she was tired. “Why are you tired?” I asked her. “My feet are sore from all the walking we did while organizing our classroom library.” That’s a win for creating a culture of literacy and student ownership!

Do I Really Need an Apple Watch?

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Outside the Apple Store in Portland, OR

I post this picture on Instagram and Facebook while at AcceleratED last week. The caption:

I don’t need an Apple Watch, I don’t need an Apple Watch…

The people who commented on my post fell into two camps: Those who felt the need to be funny (“Trump says ban Apple!! :-P”), and those who own Apple Watches. The latter group was adamant that I needed one. One of my friends on Facebook even posted a personal message online via his newest device – see image below.

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I did go into the store to explore this technology more. The salesperson was originally from Wisconsin (of course – Apple knows my every move and plans accordingly). She showed me the different options, ranging in price from $350 – $500. I told her that I am not a watch wearer. “Neither was I.” She showed me how she uses her watch, which connects to your iPhone via Bluetooth. You have to have your smartphone on you for the Apple Watch to work. Certain apps that are downloaded on your iPhone can then be activated for the watch. For example, I am a heavy Evernote user for storing all kinds of content. The Apple Watch would allow me to dictate notes via voice. It also “buzzes” your wrist for texts, emails, and phone calls.

I thanked her for her time and went on my way sans an Apple Watch on my wrist.


 

I have previously written about how my Android smartphone (work) would eventually replace my iPhone (personal). The transition hasn’t happened yet. My iPhone 5S is still my go-to device when I am on the go. I will not wax poetically about all of the benefits of this device over its nearest competitor. If you own an iPhone, you know what I mean.

My worry stems from strapping myself with more devices than I would ever imagine. I still have two phones – why do I need one more device? An article in the New York Times by Sherry Turkle highlights the research that shows that as we become more tethered to technology, our abilities to emotionally connect with others  decreases.

Across generations, technology is implicated in this assault on empathy. We’ve gotten used to being connected all the time, but we have found ways around conversation — at least from conversation that is open-ended and spontaneous, in which we play with ideas and allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable.

When I spoke to Apple Watch owners in Portland, they found the opposite to be true. They felt they were less distracted. Tim Lauer, an elementary principal, observed that when he wears his Apple Watch, he is more accessible to others in addition to being less distracted. “I receive a text or an email, and I can respond to just that one communication. If I pull out my phone, I am also tempted to check Twitter, Instagram, and other social media tools.”

I would probably find the same results – less distracted, more accessible. So what level of access do I want to provide for others? What if I don’t want to be found? I also worry about committing too much to any one technology. For example, my Android smartphone has certain advantages over my iPhone, such as longer battery life and better cellular reception.

This “digital dilemma” will continue for some time. I believe it is healthy to constantly question all of these connections we create for ourselves. The relationships we have formed in person should be our priority.  Sherry Turkle has come to similar conclusions.

But it is in this type of conversation — where we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are.

Our connections with others can be enhanced with digital tools, but they should not replace them.

 

 

Christmas Cards for Teachers’ Parents

My first reaction to hearing Todd Whitaker (@toddwhitaker) propose that principals should send photos of staff working with kids to the staff members’ parents was, “Who has time for that?” After actually sending out these photos and reflecting on the feedback I received, I now think, “That time was well spent.”

After attending the administrator conference where I heard this idea, I started using Twitter to collaborate with colleagues (thanks go to @PrincipalJ and @WiscPrincipal for presenting about this useful tool). I asked other principals online if they had done this, or what they thought about the idea. Many had not tried it, but most thought it was worthy of my time.

With help taking candid pictures of staff members in action, uploading them to an online printer and collecting staff members’ parents’ addresses, this project did not take as much time as I feared. In fact, my biggest concern was how the teachers and aides plus their family members would react to the principal sending out Christmas cards with photos to them. I did not know who they were, nor did they know me.

The feedback could not have been more positive. During break, I received four emails from staff and one email from a parent of a teacher, all thanking me for taking the time to recognize their efforts. I even had a grandparent of one of my teachers stop me after church, thanking me for sending the photo of their granddaughter to their son.

When I got back to school after the New Year’s, several staff members stopped me in the hallway to thank me personally for the card and photo. One of my teachers has a sister who teaches in the Fox Valley (Wisconsin). She said her sister gave the card and photo to her principal, requesting that he do the same thing next year. I also had two parents of teachers write me a personal thank you card. One parent’s message was especially touching; this teacher’s mother stated she was feeling lonely during the holiday season, until my card showed up in the mail. Seeing her daughter working with students made her day.

I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone a little in order to share my appreciation for my staff with the people who care about them the most. My only concern now is: Do I do this every year? Will it become trite or expected? Any comments or questions you may have would be appreciated.