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:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Feeling Wicked Smaht!

I have to say that I did feel a little smarter about a month ago when I had the privilege of attending the Art of Leadership (AOL) at Harvard, which is part of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  It was such a great experience learning among top educators from all over the country and world!

      Cambridge was amazing!
Walking through this majestic campus - the renowned place of learning for some of the most influential people in the world was humbling.  I met so many awesome principals that How did this small town girl growing up in a town of 2,000 in little old Davis, Oklahoma and now a principal in Weatherford,  Texas get here?  I was able to participate in this program through Raise Your Hand Texas.  The mission of this organization is: "Raise Your Hand Texas advances public education by igniting fiercely innovative leadership and advocacy for our state’s 5 million+ students."  To learn more about this great organization that is focused on improving schools and education, visit their website:

Harvard Professor, Pamela Mason
Through AOL, I connected with Harvard professors, and met lots of new friends in Texas (Other RYHT scholarship recipients) and other principals from the west coast to the east coast and beyond.  I hope to keep these friendships for a life!
My Learning Group 11!

I learned so much about myself at AOL.  I learned about myself as a leader and learner.  I hope to take this experience back to Weatherford ISD and Curtis Elementary with the hope that I will be a better leader for my district, teachers, and most importantly - my students!

Bring in the New!

I love new things!  I just got my car detailed, and it looks and smells brand new.  It is amazing what having something new can do for your attitude.  The part of my life that really makes me happy is a new year. I am not talking about New Years - January 1st.  As a life long educator, my new year excitement comes in August.  I love a new school year!

My school year started last week.  My new Assistant Principal, Sarah Williams, and I have been planning and preparing the new school year for teachers and students at Curtis Elementary.  In the midst of creating staff development and processes to start new this year, I get really excited.

This year will be even more exciting having new folks at Curtis.  I am really excited about working with two new office members, Sarah Williams and Jenny Chapman. 
You all met Sarah in my last post.  Jenny Chapman is coming to Curtis from Aledo ISD. She will be our new counselor!  Jenny has great ideas for how she will help to transform Curtis and create a positive learning environment for students, teachers, and parents at Curtis. 

This year we will have more than new staff members.  Our building has gone through some renovations over the summer.  In a few short weeks, we will move back into new offices!  Through the WISD bond, we were able to create secure entrances!  This new entrance will allow us to ensure a safer learning environment for our students, parents, and teachers. 

I can't wait to start this new year, meet our new teachers, and welcome all of our students back to school. It will be a great, new year!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer of Fear - NOT!

With every new school year approaching, we are challenged with new adventures.  Over the last few weeks there have been some big changes at Curtis Elementary.  Some of these changes were a little scary. Change can be scary.  Change can be uncomfortable.  Change can be beautiful!

 A huge change for me and the Curtis staff is Marie Hernandez leaving Curtis to lead the Crockett Elementary campus.  At first I felt some sadness and even panic!  This change was huge!  At first, I thought, “I lost my right hand.  What am I going to do?”   However, this moment of change will have a tremendous, positive impact on Weatherford Independent School District.  While I will miss Marie, I am super excited about her new adventures at Crockett Elementary as Principal.  I know Marie will do great things there, and I will continue to work with her as we help each of our campuses to grow!

Marie and I at our first Meet the Teacher with Dave Cowley.
A few days after adjusting to not having Marie with me on campus every day, I lost my left hand, Lindsay Fuller.    Of course, the first thing that flashed through my mind was, “Now what am I going to do?  My first thoughts were, “What about our Curtis kids?  What about our teachers?”  The role of the counselor is important to a school. I was worrying about the impact this could have on my school and only seeing negative impact, but I realized I was wrong.  Lindsay has already built so many positive relationships with students, families, and teachers at Curtis.  Now she has the opportunity to extend her reach positively impacting more students, parents, and teachers at Crockett Elementary.    

 Mrs.  Fuller is excited about this new opportunity to help students, parents and teachers on another campus.  I am proud for her courage to continue to grow and help others on another campus.  I know she will continue to do amazing things at her new school.

Sarah Williams
I took some time to reflect on this change.  Change can be scary due to the unknown outcomes.  Thinking about leading Curtis with a new administration staff really excites me.  I am going to replace an awesome assistant principal with another awesome assistant principal.  Sarah Williams has been the assistant principal at Seguin for two years.  The knowledge and experience she will bring to Curtis will only help to make our school stronger.  I am so excited about this new partnership and want to welcome Sarah to our campus. 

 I have an opportunity to hire a new counselor that will have to fill some pretty big shoes. I know that our new counselor will immediately take care of our Curtis students and we will be alright.  Curtis teachers will be alright.  In the words of Jo Dee Messina, “I’m all, I’m all, I’m alright!”

What I want to continually remind myself, teachers, parents, and students is that change makes us better.  Change will allow Mrs. Fuller and Mrs. Hernandez to grow and empower others to grow.   This change will allow Curtis Elementary to gain new perspectives and reach beyond what we once imagined.    In order for us to grow, we must allow ourselves to accept change.  The only change that is negative is if we do not embrace it and get better from it. If we take the advice from another song I love by Jo Dee Messina, “That’s The Way It Is, you’ve got to roll with the changes. That’s the way it is, you’ve got go where the wind blows.  You Live and Learn. You Crash and Burn.  It’s Hit or Miss. That’s the way it is.”   

 Change is what you make of it, and I’m making the best lemonade anyone has ever tasted with all of the new change at Curtis Elementary.   That is why I say that this is the summer of fear -  NOT.  It will be a great year!   This is opportunity, and it is better to get out of our comfort zone every now and then in order to learn and grow.  I close with these words from Robert Frost.   “Two roads diverged in the wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.



Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I Got a New Attitude!

Spring is definitely in the air!  It is that time of year when the stress begins to build!  Teachers, students, and parents stress about "The Test". While STAAR is important, we must keep in mind that it is just one day out of an entire year.  One day does not define a student.  The experiences and opportunities we provide for students each and every day is what really matters.

I am mindful of our school culture and the school environment.  As the leader of Curtis Elementary, I am constantly reminding myself about, "Doing What is BEST for kids!"  Providing a safe place to learn is our most important charge.  Our mission is to "Teach, Challenge, and Inspire".  It is my job to make sure that our students, staff members, and families know that and feel that.

As we trudge our way through the high stress and business of school at this time of year, the one word that comes to mind is "Attitude". We choose our attitude.  No matter what is happening around us, we have a choice.  With these thoughts, I reflect on a classic from Patti LaBelle.

"I'm feeling good from my hat to my shoe,
Know where I am going and I know what to do,
I've tidied up my point of view,
I've got a new attitude."

Attitude is contagious and can make all the difference.  A positive attitude is the one thing we can choose to have every day.  An attitude can spread like wildfire, so it must be uplifting and positive.  A positive attitude is energy.  It is the voltage that flows through the school.  Its current runs through each person. When I enter Curtis Elementary, I want light it up with bright, positive energy.  If we as educators remember this, we will brighten every classroom and office lighting the way for kids.

Teachers at Curtis have a strong desire to instill the love of learning.  How can we do that?  We can do that with a positive attitude.  When we are passionate about the work of each day, students will love coming to school and love learning.   As educators, we insist that students possess a positive attitude. What we need to be mindful of and insist of ourselves to be positive because our attitudes matters.  

 My challenge to myself as well as teachers, students, and parents is to choose to have a positive attitude.  When students enter your room or office, is it well lit?  Does your passion and excitement for learning brighten the way for student success?  

Friday, January 8, 2016

STEAMing into Innovation!

Wow! It is the first week back to school for the 2016 school year, I am so excited! I have to admit that, "I just cant hide and I'm about to lose control and I think I like it!" The Pointer Sisters said it best. Today was the big  reveal of a surprise for our Curtis students. Students toured, for the very first time, the brand new Innovation Lab! This room would not be possible without the generous donation from the Curtis PTA. We are blessed with the most amazing group of parents and volunteers at Curtis. Like the staff, they are focused on what is best for kids. We are very thankful for the WISD Maintenance Department.  They worked hard to complete the painting of this room over the holiday break.    
Under Construction!

Rick Montgomery crafting words on the walls!

  I came up with the idea about five weeks ago. Many people are following the one word challenge,  #oneword,  on Twitter. My one word is #listen.  Five weeks ago I did just that - I listened. There was a student in my office that was struggling with making good decisions. I listened to him explain what was going on with him and asked what he loved most at Curtis.  After he responded, I realized that due to his academic struggles, he is not able to do the one thing he loves most which is going to the Maker's Space. This student is pulled in several directions throughout the day and works on an online tutorial after school. Because of this he has no free time to go the Maker's Space or attend the Maker's Club. In several discussions, Librarian, Kim Scoggin, has also been thinking of ways for students to access the Maker's Space more frequently.  In conversations with Kristie O'Keefe, Creative (Art) instructor,  she expressed the many challenges surrounding this class. Often times students are not able to engage in great experiences because of time. Nearly 40 students are in the room working on a creative art activity. Managing students in this environment and engaging them in creative opportunities in 45 minutes is challenging.   Teachers have been frustrated with not having enough time to access online tutorials and programs, and they have to use instructional time to ensure students are able to utilize the computer lab. The  schedule is usually booked, and classrooms are unable to visit the lab. 

After reflecting on these three situations, I brainstormed viable solutions. How can we provide the best education for our students at Curtis Elementary?  I thought about the work I do with principals all over Texas with the Texas Principal's Visioning Institute.  I have been learning how to change - no transform, education. How do we transform Curtis? We do school differently! 

In our quest to do school differently at Curtis, we encourage creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. One of the ways we do this is through the Maker's Space - which only a few kids occasionally access. Following the lead of our students, I am continuing to learn. As the Lead Learner, my Maker's Challenge to myself was to create a space where every student explores their passion in a risk-free environment. After planning with my team at Curtis, we created an Innovation class modeled from the great work of Don Wettrick that runs an Innovation class in Noblesville, Indiana. 

Amy Wallace
With the creative designs of Amy Wallace, we helped to transform a typical classroom in our building into a bright, interactive lab that immediately sparks excitement. Amy worked tirelessly over the last two weeks, managing projects and re-purposing old furniture into a collaborative, inviting learning space. Some of the highlights of this room include a 4 x 8 Lego wall, a giant Lite-Brite, rolling art tables and magnetic surfaces along with dry erase tables. There is also a textile center where students can sew and crochet among other things. One wall of this room will be utilized as a green screen so that students have a space to create videos. 

From the top-left: Marie Hernandez, Kim Scoggin, Lindsay Fuller
From the bottom-left: Abbi Blackburn, Kristie O'Keefe, Amy Wallace, Lori Bratcher

Scoggin teamed with Abbi Blackburn to plan engaging projects. Abbi Blackburn, Kim Scoggin, Lindsay Fuller, and Kristie O'Keeffe, have coordinated to integrate connected activities during collaboration. Shawna Ford, Future Ready Coordinator for WISD consulted with our team to help guide them with ideas and plan how to use this space.

Students will attend the Innovation class during their collaboration schedule each week. They will focus on STEAM activities that enable them to make connections and solve problems without the constraints of traditional instruction and fear of failure. Students will be able tap into their innovative and creative talents. 

Abbi Blackburn introducing the Innovation Lab to students. 

During the unveiling, students entered the Innovation Lab with excitement and curiosity.  They were blown away with the opportunity to innovate and create.  One students' words were, " Most schools do not allow students to choose the way they learn like Curtis.  Kids will be able to be creative in this place." Students were eager to look around and think about all the possibilities for how they can express themselves and pursue their passions.

As the lead learner of Curtis Elementary, my goal is to ignite passion in learning through not only my students but also staff. I believe that this new opportunity will provide a time and space that empowers innovation and continues our educational transformation along this journey as we transform Curtis Elementary
Let the STEAMwork begin!

Sunday, January 3, 2016


It is a new year and as they say, "Out with the old and in with the new!"  Many of us ring in the new year with resolutions for how we will change and improve our lives in the coming year.  Along with many others this year, I will not make a resolution. I will join many others with the hashtag #oneword that is sweeping the twitter community.  My one word is #listen.

Inspired by my friend, Matt Arend, a principal from Plano ISD, I will also turn my focus to one word. His is #moment.  Matt's eloquently describes how important it is to take in each moment in his recent blog post.  I could not have picked a better one word to inspire a new year.  Stopping to enjoy the moment sounds so easy, but it can be very difficult to do.  It is all of the little moments in life that add up to make our lives richer and better.

I will turn my focus this year on my one word - #listen.  If I were to have a resolution, this would or should be mine.  I sometimes get it such a big hurry to get things accomplished that I do not always stop to listen - really listen to others.

Listening to others is not always actively hanging on every word.  Truly listening is not only listening with your ears, but your eyes.  Listening to what a student is really saying with his/her body language when he/she is not completing work in class is one example.  A look or body language sometimes says much more than words can express. Maybe the student is having a rough time at home because his parents are constantly fighting.   Maybe the student is not getting enough to eat at home.  Maybe the student is grieving or suffering from depression.  It is easy to rush through a conversation with a student and just tell the student to do his/her work.  Really listening may provide insight to really help solve the problem.

  I hope to really listen to everything someone says not only with their words, but their actions and expressions.  The work we do in schools reaches far beyond filling minds with knowledge.  We are connected with each person we interact with every day.  We are connected with students, colleagues, parents and family members.  Being an effective leader involves the keen senses to notice and understand someone's perspective no matter what that person is actually saying or how loud the person  may be saying it.

My focus at work (school) or at home is to sit back to really listen.  I will challenge myself to listen to students, teachers, parents, and my family.  I want to be the kind of person that is always an open ear to hear someone's cheers and celebrations as well as a sounding board for fresh ideas.  I want to the person that can be the filter or cushion for venting frustrations.

I just want to really listen.