Friday’s assembly hosted by our kindergarten students, was simply icing on the cake this week! Mr. Mike Buccetti accompanied our youngest students on his guitar, as they serenaded us with a counting song about Valentines, and one of my favorite Will-Put-A-Smile-On-Your-Face tunes, You are my Sunshine. Students also shared their writing and illustrations about the power of friendship. Close your eyes for a minute and imagine this: You are just 5 or 6 years old, standing up in front of over 300 students and parents whose eyes are on you and you alone, you are reading a piece of your writing, speaking loud and proud into a microphone, overcoming your stagefright, communicating your deepest most personal feelings about friendship. Now open your eyes.
Are you shaking in your boots?
Are you as impressed as I am?
It is amazing what kindergarten students are able to do-and it’s only March!
I want to thank Mrs. Kristi Brouker, our extraordinary parent who “catered” Thursday’s learning opportunity for the district’s leadership team. Our superintendent of schools, assistant superintendent, Farmington principals, directors, and visitors from another district came to observe teaching and learning at Union School. Everyone was impressed with your children. Here is the thank you/feedback letter I sent to your children: (You may have discovered a copy of the letter if you braved a trip into your children’s backpack this week-end.)
You may have noticed lots of visitors at Union School yesterday. These teachers and principals, our Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent, directors and guests from another town, came to see how students learn at Union School. After we visited your classrooms, we talked about what we saw and heard:
- Students were listening to their teachers and to each other.
- Students were asking questions when they didn’t understand something.
- Students explained their thinking to each other.
- Students were working hard to solve challenging math problems.
- Students were kind and respectful to each other.
- Students persisted, and didn’t give up.
- Students analyzed a video of classmates talking about their books.
- Students gave each other feedback and suggestions about their work.
- Students evaluated their own work and each other’s work.
- Students set goals for improving their partnerships.
- Students supported their thinking with reasons and evidence.
- Students solved math problems in different and creative ways.
- Students were focused on their work.
- Students encouraged and supported each other.
- Students talked to each other (long and strong) about the characters in their books.
- Students used charts and other tools in their classrooms to help them learn.
- Students were working with partners and they were learning how to be even better partners.
Our visitors were impressed with what they saw yesterday-a school filled to the brim, with children and adults who love to learn, who are always improving, and who help each other learn too. Thank you for filling my bucket yesterday-today-and every day. I am so proud of you.
What a month! Late openings, early closings, snow days, Groundhog Day, 100th day of school, Valentines Day, Presidents Day-and don’t forget Do a Grouch a Favor Day! (I did not make that up. It’s February 16, 2014-today as a matter of fact!)
Watch this short (3 minutes) and inspirational video from the young entrepreneur who brought us Life is good. Understanding the difference between “Have to” and “Get to” is a life-changing concept.
And here is something your children get to play during vacation. It’s a vacation game I created just for Union School kids. Of course-you and your children get to decide how to play. If you want rules you get to make them up. Everyone who plays gets to be a winner. You and your children even get to complete the last two categories.
And now, I get to curl up on the couch with a very thick vacation book and a cup of tea. And later. . . I get to eat the dinner my husband gets to cook after his basketball game. Have a wonderful vacation everyone!
This is a picture of fourth grade students losing a volleyball game. This is a photograph of pure joy, happiness, excitement and love of the game. This is a picture of teachers and staff winning a volleyball game. This is a picture of proud educators who have created a culture where winning is not about how many points each team earns. This image captures the essence of effort, sportsmanship, encouragement, and a climate of mutural respect. And as they say-a picture is worth a 1000 words. Enjoy the Superbowl this week-end! And whether your team wins or loses the game-remember this picture.
I love making lists. Especially when I’m in a hurry, tired, or feeling disorganized. (Which is all 3 at the moment!)
Here’s a list of some memorable events at Union School these past few weeks :
1. Our orchestra and choir performed two winter concerts, in our gymnasium during the afternoon and at IAR in the evening.
2. Our first and fourth graders shared and performed songs, a play, and inspiration during our Bucket Filling Assembly in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.
3. Sonar, the Wolf Pack mascot, visited students at Union School and delivered bookmarks too-helping us celebrate another “Wacky Wednesday” reading challenge.
4. Kindergarten and first grade students and families, Union School teachers and staff members, enjoyed an evening reading event organized by Mrs. Farrah-PJs and Teddy Bears.
5. Some teachers met early in the morning, before school to discuss a new professional text, Falling in Love with Close Reading, facilitated by our literacy specialist, Mrs. Giesing.
When I read through my list just now, a theme started to emerge. These memorable events have something important in common, they are memorable for a reason. Each item on my list represents an authentic learning task. Each item on the list is meaningful and has purpose for students, teachers, and audiences alike. We learn about Martin Luther King’s life and leadership-to share our insights and inspire others. We practice our violins and memorize the lyrics to songs so we can bring music into the lives of those we love-and perform with confidence. We don our pajamas and bring along our teddy bears and books, because reading, listening to stories, and talking about books is a fun way to build community. As educators we get up extra early and discuss a new book to become better teachers, to learn new skills and strategies for helping our students become better learners. And Sonar? His visit was meaningful as well-he brought a smile to our children’s faces-on a cold day-and reminded us that reading is important for everyone!
When my children were in elementary school, I taught them how to do their own laundry. I hoodwinked them into thinking I was such a great mother-because most kids their age weren’t allowed to do their own laundry; this was a special honor I was bestowing upon them. The truth was I was working full time, juggling the demands of children, home, and work, and I was desperate for some relief. Although my intentions were less than honorable, the impact of my decision turned out to be positive and powerful.
1. No more early morning complaints about not having clean underwear!
2. More time for preferred activities (reading to my children, playing games, cooking dinner, and relaxing)
3. My children understood that they had responsibilities and the skills needed to handle their responsibilities.
This week I noticed some fourth graders in the library first thing in the morning. Mrs. Farrah explained that she had taught students in each fourth grade classroom how to check in returned books. She also explained that fourth graders had “adopted a library shelf” to maintain throughout the year. I am impressed with how skillful and responsible our students are. What may have begun as a problem to solve for Mrs. Farrah (not enough time to check in the books herself), turned into an opportunity for building students’ independence and confidence. When we raise the bar and give our children responsibilities-they never cease to amaze us. Of course, this also means we give up some quality control. As parents, and educators-we need to be comfortable with this shift. My son’s shirts may have been a bit wrinkled. . .but they were clean. And isn’t a wrinkled shirt a small price to pay for raising independent and responsible children?
This week. . . think about how you might make your life a little easier-by giving your children additional responsibilities at home. They will surely thank you for this some day!
Please ask your children to give you your homework. That’s correct-your homework. Students at Union School were given two surveys on Thursday to bring home to you. Their job is to give you your homework, a pen or pencil, and 10 minutes of quiet-uninterrupted time to complete the surveys. (Their job may be even more challenging than your homework!) One survey (the blue one) will help us with our positive school culture plan; the other survey is to find out parents’ interest in a possible breakfast program. We appreciate your input and feedback and thank you for “doing your homework.” Please complete a separate survey for each child. Enjoy the week-end-and stay warm! Here’s some inspiration for indoor fun at home:
I’m drawn to “resolutions” like a moth to a flame. A New Year, the beginning of a school year, my birthday, an anniversary, a hike in the woods, or any Sunday night in the year-are all excuses for setting new goals and making new plans to achieve them. I have an exciting and cool gadget around my wrist: Fitbit Flex is the name of this wireless activity tracker. I set a rather lofty goal of 10,000 steps a day. I’ve reached that goal only once this past week, but I’ve been very close and I’m going to get there. I know how important physical activity is for my health, and well-being. Our students also set important goals at school; goals for reading so many minutes each day, or completing a given number of books each week, goals for mastering their math facts or high frequency spelling words, goals for keyboarding, practicing their violins, and goals for running a mile. Goal setting isn’t just for New Year’s Eve. Consider setting a goal for reading aloud to your children. Even your children who are quite capable of reading books on their own, benefit from sharing a book with a parent, enjoying the warmth and attention and alone time; just you, a book, your child, and a warm blanket. It doesn’t get better than that! Start with a goal that is achievable: I will aloud read one picture book a week, and slowly work up to a loftier goal: I will read aloud a chapter a night. If you need suggestions for great read aloud titles-ask your children’s teachers, Mrs. Farrah our amazing librarian, or check out her website. My most enduring memories of my mother-include hearing her read Charlotte’s Web to me, a chapter each night, when I was too young to read the book on my own. My two older sisters were nowhere in sight, I had my mom all to myself, and I was swept away with her to a farm somewhere in New England, with Fern, Charlotte, and a pig called Wilbur. The power of reading aloud to your children is mighty indeed. Happy New Year to you and your families-and I wish you many lofty New Year’s resolutions as well! As the saying goes: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. . . or in my case. . . 10,000 steps. Oh my-what was I thinking?
I want to wish every Union School family a wonderful holiday season, and a happy and healthy New Year. Although we are all looking forward to vacation, sometimes children (and parents) are more than ready to get back into the routine of school! Here’s a song we will be singing at today’s Sing-a-Long Assembly. Ask your children to sing it for you, and if needed, use the song to help you and your children enjoy every minute of this special time.
And here’s another example of creative problem solving, persistence, engineering, and collaboration: The student council had a great idea, to build a tree out of books and then donate the books to a charity. The reality turned out to be more of a challenge than the students anticipated. But as you can see below-they solved the design problems creatively and the finished product is a wonder to behold! And. . . they even made this installation interactive by providing a booklet for adding book recommendations! Our Student Council is amazing-and their co-advisors, Mr. Stern and Mrs. Bourget did a great job encouraging independence, problem-solving, and making sure this project was 100% student-directed and completed from start to finish.
Along with millions of other mothers, educators, and people from all walks-of-life, in this state, in this country, and around the world, we remember the fear and the anger, the horror and the grief we felt a year ago. Our hearts ache for the 26 families who wake up every morning to face another day without their beloved children, their wives and mothers. We reach out by practicing acts of kindness, sharing our thoughts and prayers on Twitter, lighting real candles in the dark and virtual candles on social media pages. We ask ourselves, what can we do to make things better? What can we do?
The other day on the news, I heard a parent talk about the last time she read a children’s book aloud. It was to her first grade son, before bedtime, Dec. 13, 2012. She talked about her unimaginable grief. She shared how much she misses the precious time she spent every night reading aloud to her child; that magical bedtime ritual parents often take for granted.
Even if reading aloud every night to our children did not instill a love of reading, increase literacy skills, ignite interests, build knowledge, or improve vocabulary, it would still be worth every minute of our time. There is nothing better in the world than sharing a good book with a warm child in your lap, or curled up snug as a bug next to you, on the couch.
Along with acts of kindness and lighting candles, perhaps there is one more thing we can do in memory of the 26 lives lost on Dec. 14, 2012-one more thing we can do to make the world a better place for all our children. We can open a book and read to our sons and daughters, every night. Each page we read is an act of love, a gift for our children, and an even more precious gift for us to savor.