Monday, September 18, 2017

Restorative Practices

It  has been a great three weeks of school as we start the 2017-2018 school year, and we have been busy.  Students and teachers in every classroom have worked to create a positive classroom environment.  One of the important characteristics to a healthy community is respect.  Students are learning about how to respect one another.  Students and teachers are also learning how to respect each other through Restorative Practices.

Restorative Practice includes strategies for helping students understand positive relationships. Having healthy relationships impacts our lives.  Knowing how to respect others will have a positive effect in every aspect of our lives.  Developing these skills through Restorative Circles is a large part of how we understand one another.  Teachers hold Restorative Circle meetings or Class Meetings with students.  During this time, the instruction centers around respect and understanding.
 Students and teachers talk about how they are feeling.  During these meetings, problems are solved.  Students are able to learn how to have a positive relationship with others.  They are able to connect with others and see how much they have in common with others.   Restorative Circles also help students learn ways to react to different situations which helps to improve their social awareness.

Educating students is not always about Reading, Writing, and Math.  We do so much more than that at Curtis Elementary.  We care about kids!  Staff members are charged with how to develop each student and help them be a positive citizen.  Curtis Elementary staff is challenged with helping students understand how to work through conflict and restore relationships.  That is how they will sustain healthy relationships throughout their lives.  Curtis Elementary is challenged with helping to improve our society by teaching our students about how to develop positive relationships and changing lives one child at a time. Why do we do this? ...Because Kids!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Learning Together is Fun!

Last week our Curtis staff got together for our annual Curtis Retreat.  We had a fun-filled afternoon learning together because our differences.  Developing a positive culture is important in creating a team!  This is something that our Curtis team does best!  We had a great time together.

This year's theme is, "Making the Difference."  We want to encourage our classrooms to include challenges that cultivate problem solving, collaboration, collaboration, and creativity.  Maker's Spaces provide this opportunity.  Teachers can create these spaces for students in the their classrooms as well as accessing our Innovation Lab for class challenges throughout the year.  Our challenge in meeting the  needs of students is to individualize learning and embrace their differences.  At the retreat, our teachers worked in teams to complete a challenge.  Little did they know, some were more equipped than others.  The members of each team all have different experiences, talents, and passions.  Working together collaboratively, they were all able to contribute in their own unique way to complete the challenge together.

Each team had many of the same items to complete the challenge, but some of their items were a little different.  Some teams' directions were in another language while others may not have been able to talk while planning to execute their challenge. 

Like teaching and learning, not every student starts on the same playing field.  Some may be more equipped with certain talents and skills than others, but ALL students have talents.  Allowing students to collaborate to solve problems is important to learning.  Student-centered learning helps to break barriers allowing students to think differently to achieve a common goal.

Learning needs to be fun!
Our learning space on Thursday night was not quiet.  It was teeming with familiar sites and sounds of learning.  Staff members were communicating ideas, laughing, and working with their hands to complete the challenge to make something float!    Learning is messy!  There were materials flying all over the place.  Student-centered learning helps to engage all learners and encourages collaboration, a skill most important to success in life.

Curtis Elementary teachers had fun last Thursday night!  A Team that plays together, stays together!  We are committed to embracing differences in students' learning styles and differentiating learning for every child. 
We will know our students, individualize learning for each of them, and ensure that every child makes progress.  We accept the challenge to make learning fun leading our students to success.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Because Kids!

It is that time of year again!  The start of a new year is always exciting! I try to wrap things up around the house before the start of school so that I can focus on teachers and students. In the last days of summer, I have been working to take care of some things around my house.  I love doing yard work, but sometimes things don't go as smoothly as planned.  Last weekend I was tasked with eradicating some tough black algae in my pool.  It just came out of nowhere!  Or did it?  A week before I awoke to scattered spots on the pool plaster, I had to take my water to get tested.  Distracted by other things, I did not treat my pool as expected and just did not get around to it.  At the end of the week, I was about to begin the treatment and to my surprise, I had a bigger issue - the black algae.  This issue cost me a couple of days of hard work scrubbing and vacuuming the pool. And the really fun part -  cleaning the filter.  All of this could have been avoided if only I had not allowed myself to be distracted.

In between the scrubbing, we decided to test all of our sprinklers to see if the system was working well.  This task took most of the day.  We found a few sprinkler heads that needed replacing and some were watering the sidewalks and not the grass.  The thing that took most of the day was finding a station not working.  There were some sprinklers that were not coming on at all!  My husband and I worked several hours trouble shooting a station which included a couple of trips to Home Depot for parts.  After several hours, we concluded that we were not even working on the right station!  Since we did not have a blueprint for our system, we were just shooting in the dark to determine which station watered different parts of the yard.  Finally, after all day in the hot sun (the hottest day of the summer) we found the right station to repair so that we could fix the valve.

I tell this story about my Saturday because it reminds me of the job we do in education.  My Saturday caused me to reflect on some key duties that I have as the principal of Curtis Elementary.  It is my key responsibility to make sure that everyone in the building is focused on the right things.  The work we do at Curtis Elementary is important.  We are all about meeting the needs of students no matter how diverse those needs may be at any given time.  Here are a couple of the key lessons that I learned from working in the yard.

 1.  Don't Get Distracted!

Sometimes in education the same thing can happen.  We will all have the best intentions to keep everything running smoothly and things distract us.  The next thing you know, there is an unforeseen problem.  It is like spinning plates.  While busy spinning one plate, another one falls.  IT is difficult to keep them all spinning at the same time.  Going back to the pool issue, I am reminded that we have to be focused on the right things all of the time!  As a principal, it is my responsibility to ensure that staff members and teachers are focused on the right things, and I do not take this responsibility lightly.  Not only do I need to focus on the culture of our school, but I also must keep quality instruction at the forefront of everything that we do.  It is all about the students!    As with the pool, if we are not focused on the right things at the right time, we will have to spend precious time treating a problem or it will come back twice as big.
Algae can run rampant just like perceptions can blow up!  We always want to have a positive perception with our parents and community.  We do not want our community to perceive that we do not care.  Developing positive relationships with our parents is crucial.  Having a positive relationship with parents and students goes a long way.  If we nurture our relationships with parents, it is easier to find solutions together to help their child when academic or behavioral issue arise.  The most important relationship we must cultivate is with the student.  Students know when a teacher believes in them and cares.  It is important that there is a relationship with the student in order for him/her is ready to learn.   We also must stay focused on the learning standards that need to be taught to students.  If we teach TEKS to the appropriate depth and rigor that our state standards outline, we do not need to teach to a test.  Our students will be ready! We will not have to sweat it when state testing season begins.   We are about quality learning - not testing.  Not getting distracted and staying focused on the "right" work is good for students.

2.  Focus on the Students' and Teachers' Needs!

We are all different!  Teachers are different from one another and have different talents, learning and teaching styles.  As the principal, I must take these unique differences into account during professional development.  One size does not fit all!  I must take on a coaching role to work with teachers to do all I can to help them to be their best.  It is the same with students.   Kids are different too!  As educators, we must tap into students' passions and talents in order to increase academic achievement.  We must DIFFERENTIATE!  This is such an easy term that rolls out of our mouths, but it is really difficult.  We must provide an individualized education for all students.  Not every student needs the same thing.  It is like those sprinklers that were spraying the sidewalk.

It does not matter how much water you are spraying, if it isn't hitting the grass nothing grows.  The same thing goes with learning.  If teachers are cranking out awesome lessons, but they are not pointing the right stuff to the right kids, it is wasted energy and effort.  We need to point our
sprinklers in the right directions - using the right instructional strategies for each student instead of just spraying it all over the room and hoping some of it lands on a student helping him/her to learn and grow.  We need to make sure we are working on the right station or valve when there is an issue instead of wasting time working on the wrong problem.

I am committed to ensuring that Curtis Elementary provides quality instruction for every student.
It is my job to learn, to lead, and to encourage.  The work we do at our campus begins with me.  I am excited about the year ahead of us and more determined than ever to make sure we are laser focused on building relationships and improving  instruction every single day Why?    ...Because Kids!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Full Steam Ahead!

November 17, 2016 was a magnificent night at Curtis Elementary.  This is our second year of having a STEAM Night, and it was a great success.  STEAM Night is a night full of fun, innovative activities for students to demonstrate to parents Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics that they are learning each day at school.   

We even had some students in our Robotics Club unveil their project that they had been working on for nearly a year!  This is their robot! 
They not only constructed this little guy, but they also programmed him too!  They are still working on getting him just right, and can program him to do more things.  That is the beauty of learning.... we are never finished!  

We also had several challenges during the night and one of those challenges was the Marshmallow Challenge.  Students and parents worked together to create a structure
as tall as they could using marshmallows, spaghetti noodles (uncooked of course), and tape!  Students from
various classrooms and the library were connected through Zoom (a website to allow for video conferencing) and could see and talk to one  another throughout the challenge,

Each grade level also had various challenges and activities. There were circuits for families to experiment with, cardboard games students built, and even a cardboard mini golf course! 

The big hit of the night was the hover craft that sixth grade students helped to construct.  With the support of the 
Weatherford ISD Maintenance Department, we had boards cut so that students could take the supplies and build it.  (Safety First!  We wanted to make sure kids were not handling power tools!)  The hover craft was powered by a leaf blower motor.  With some boards, a shower curtain, and a hose, we had lift off! 

Another popular area at Curtis that night was they gym.  This is where we had a Spyro maze.  Students and parents could navigate a maze using a robot ball and an iPad.  Students and parents alike loved the air cannons also.  With the help from a
fog machine, Curtis students assisted families with filling the cannon up with fog so that smoke rings bounded out of the cannon with full force!  They also knocked down cup pyramids with these cannons.  

This night was a fantastic way for parents and the community to see the wonderful things students are learning at school.  Teachers are looking for ways to "hook" students and make learning fun!  Many of the Curtis classrooms are equipped with Maker's Spaces so students can build and discover how the world works. We want to create a place where students do not just consume information.  We want them to make and create and find their passion.  This also helps them to see the purpose of learning, and having a purpose to learn is half the battle of students retaining what they learn.

I am so proud of this event and the work the teachers and students put into having a successful STEAM Night. This was not just about teachers showcasing learning in the classroom or planning activities for kids.  Our Students helped to get ready.  They not only shared what they have been doing in class, but they planned and demonstrated the activities and games throughout the school.  This was about the students!  Students led-teachers were facilitators so our students could lead the learning!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Leader in Who?

We are learners at Curtis Elementary.  As the lead learner, I am constantly learning new ways  to support teachers so that as a team, we provide quality instruction for students.  We also look for ways to build capacity for teacher leaders.  Even though I am the principal, I continually learn from teacher leaders.    The teachers are experts in the content.  One of our value statements at Curtis and in WISD is to "Demonstrate Visionary Leadership."  Teachers at Curtis take on all sorts of roles showing their leadership each day.  One of the ways they "Demonstrate Visionary Leadership" is with through Tech Tuesdays. On Tuesdays after school teachers choose a new digital learning strategy or tools. Teachers demonstrate how to use digital tools in the classroom to increase engagement. The great thing about Tech Tuesday is that no one twists their arms to either share or learn about a new tool. Teachers choose to either lead or learn!

While we have leaders within our adults, the most important part of what we strive to do at Curtis is to raise student leaders.  We have many avenues for students to learn about leadership.  Our Student Leadership team is consisted of three students from each grade level.   The team meets the first Friday of each month to learn about leadership.  The Student Leadership team's core responsibility is to help with school improvement.  Last year the team designed learning spaces in our building.  We were able to outfit our landings with sports themed furniture, TV monitors and whiteboards so that students and teachers have cool learning spaces to collaborate and learn from each other.   Learning does not only take place in the classroom.  Sixth graders are leaders also!  The sixth graders lead through Student Council.  They fund raise and work toward helping the school as well.  They look for ways to support the community and improve our school through various committees.

Chloe Whitehead, a Curtis Student Leader, is also a Student Ambassador at Region XI!
Choloe on right with Curtis teachers!
Ms. Rogers, Mrs. Mask, and Mrs. Gibson
 She started raising money to buy Chromebooks for other students at Curtis!  This is an example of  raising student leaders at Curtis!

We also "Demonstrate Visionary Leadership" through our school -wide "Leader in Me" program.  Each month, I read a book that focuses on one of the seven habits a leadership to the staff.  We will participate in activities that outline that particular habit.  Teachers will then take this book back to the classroom so that they can teach students about leadership.  Student work that is centered around these habits of leadership is posted all around the building.  Students and staff members can talk about the leadership habit and provide feedback related to this work that is displayed.  Raising student leaders to understand what it takes to be a leader and the habits of great leaders is important to developing the whole child so that they not only help them be prepared for the world but to also see how they can positively impact the world!

Student Leaders help present at the WISD Board Meeting.

Check out our Third Grade Leaders!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

All In!

Wow!  We are totally ready for a new school year at Curtis Elementary.  We kicked off our new year with our Curtis Risk Takers at our annual Curtis Retreat!  We had a fabulous time of fellowship and fun.

Our theme this year (and always) is "Taking Risks," and that is what we did!  Curtis Teachers teamed up and accepted the challenge of some Risky Relays.   Each team member decided on the level of risk they were willing to take to choose their leg of the relay.  The relays started with some corn hole to paddling a boat across the swimming pool to a zip-line to a narrow board across the snake river (really a dried up creek bed). Throughout these relays, one of Queen's classic hits, "We are the Champions," played through my head.  Curtis staff members are all champions for kids!

I believe that this will be a year filled with teachers taking intelligent risks in order to provide the best education for students.  We want to -Do School Differently- at Curtis.  Our challenge is to prepare our students and support them in developing skills that will prepare them for the future.  Our mission is to "teach, challenge, and inspire!"  Students need to be able to communicate, collaborate, create, and critically think. Curtis staff is up for this challenge!

Next week is our first week of professional development.  Our teachers are ready for kids!  I am excited about this new school year, and proud to be the Lead Learner of this amazing team of Learning Coaches (teachers).  We are all learners at Curtis.  One thing I am sure of is that our Curtis teachers are "ALL IN" and ready to take necessary risks to help kids to be ready for the future!

Curtis Retreat

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Two Roads Diverged in the Wood!

As I was doing my yard work this morning, one of the things that makes me happy, my mind was free to wonder and contemplate.  As I was wrapping up with blowing off the sidewalks, thinking about my own children, my thoughts arrived at a profound awareness of my children growing into young adults.  I feel helpless.

I took a walk down memory lane of a time when my kids were babies and toddlers.  I was so important to them.  They listened and actually believed me (most of the time) when I warned them of dangers. They listened to me and learned from me.  As they would venture out into the backyard, I was there.  I watched them take a step and stumble to the ground, and I could help them.  I caught them or picked them up tending to boo boos, doctoring their feelings by hugging them until they were happy or sticking a Band-Aid on a skinned knee.   Even as they ventured further when they grew a little older, I could help!  I was always there with them.    IT was so SIMPLE when they were young children.  I tried to teach them to become independent and make good choices.  Helping them understand compassion and right from wrong. I encouraged and nurtured them on their journey as they grew into adults.

As they transformed into teens, it got a little more complicated.   They were no longer in the backyard.  They took their journey into the forest, and they started becoming independent, which is what I wanted right?  It was so scary.    The realization of the impact of their mistakes could have pretty severe consequences was real.. Like any good parent, I tried to help.  I tried to keep them on the path I wanted them to take.

Now my children are legal adults.  My daughter is 23, and my son is 20.  They are both great kids, but they also have so much growing up ahead.  Not only does this feel like being in the middle of the wilderness, it is like six days off the beaten path with no civilization within hundreds of miles.  It is very tricky supporting them now.  They tell me, "I'm an adult now!"   My brain takes me back to that 1986 hit, "I'm an Adult Now,"  from The Pursuit of Happiness.

Sending your son off to college is scary.  When he chooses not not attend classes the first semester , it was an easy decision to make him come home and grow up a little more, but watching him struggle to find himself and what he wants out of life is not so easy.  My daughter is renting that first nice town home, but  I worry about her biting off more than she can handle financially and about her safety!  This is not easy - not for this helicopter mom.  It is difficult to sit back and allow each of them to continue on their hike through life without a guide.  I am there to support and try to guide them, , but they just are not always willing to follow my guidance or heed to cautions or paths I propose.

The thought of my children not always listening to my reasonable advice makes me think about my experience at Harvard last month. One of the presenters, Samuel Betances, said something that made a lasting impression on me.  It is not that I didn't realize it before, but I think how he said it is what really stuck with me.  "You can't teach a student unless they give you permission to teach him/her." That is so true with my kids.  I have to have their permission to give advice before they will actually take it and use it.   It is so real with students in the classroom. Wanting to help my children avoid the mistakes or paths we have already tread upon that may have caused great grief and struggle is what   parents desire to do.  The thing we often forget is that we learn from our mistakes.   I know learn through mine, and I need to allow my kids to learn from theirs.  I need to give them permission to take their own path, which may be one less traveled or less desirable.   I will still be the guide that shouts, "Over here,   "This Way!" or "Watch Out!"  My only hope is that the mistakes they learn from will not cost them too much or take them down too treacherous a path falling off a cliff that they can't climb up.

This is something I hope to help parents to understand at school.   Allow your children to learn from their mistakes.  The mistakes they make now in elementary school for the most part have minimal consequences.  Not completing projects and homework and suffering the consequences of their actions will hopefully help them to become more organized and responsible.   Feeling disappointment for not making a team or earning merits when they have not shown enough effort has natural consequences.  Allowing students to learn from their mistakes and not repeat them in the classroom is valuable as well.  Teachers need to not rush to just give answers to kids for the sake of time, but guide them into solving problems on their own which will have everlasting effects on their ability to be ready for the future.

 As a parent, I have fallen into the pitfalls that so many parents get trapped in as well.  I sometimes tried to help and "fix" it.  Every parent wants their child to get that A or make that team.  When our child does not use their time wisely, we just really help them get the project complete. We end of THINKING for them.  This train of thought counteracts with the end goal of helping them become independent adults. When we allow kids to learn and grow with guidance, help to show them the dangers ahead, they will learn and grow into adults that are expertly trained to be a guide for themselves and will have the ability to lead others out of the wilderness!

These thoughts are entangled with our theme at Curtis Elementary this year.  We take intelligent risks, to help our students to be future ready and to thrive in the world.  We take the road less traveled at times; not because it is a shortcut or easy.  Often times it is extremely difficult.  We choose that path because it is what is best for kids!  As an educator and principal of Curtis Elementary, I want to lead my staff, students, and parents to remembering that is alright to take risks in learning.  It will not always be easy, but well worth the reward.  My closing thoughts are in the poem, "Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.    Let's take the road less traveled - it could make all the difference!

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost: