Friday, December 12, 2014

Principles for Principals

Principles for principals -- lessons of leadership

Sue Szachowicz December 9th, 2014
The entire article is found HERE!

1.  Change occurs in the school; Central Office supports it.  As much as every superintendent or school board would like to wave a wand and mandate sweeping change in every school, improvement impacting student achievement and school culture occurs when faculty and administration in a school come together and relentlessly focus and work together – and it takes time!
2. Figure out what you can and can’t control, and focus on what you CAN control.  We are barraged by mandates, directives, laws, policies, budgets and a host of other external forces. But it’s important to remember that we as principals have a lot more control than we think we do. Most importantly, we do have control over our schools’ culture, how we welcome our students and how we instruct them for approximately seven hours a day. No matter what challenges they face in their lives, this is a powerful block of time. We can make a difference for them.
3.  It takes a team to implement change. I always ask principals to describe their teams, and it seems that too often these are simply committees, not teams. What is the difference? Teams are focused on a common goal, establish clear agendas, are not afraid of conflict and step up to lead the change process. But teams do not just happen. Principals have to build their team, create an atmosphere of trust and lead them in establishing norms and staying focused on the goals. Teams are about results, not talk.
4. Focus, focus, focus! In my nearly 40 years in education, I lived through far too many initiatives. It seems we are always off onto yet another thing. Principals and their leadership teams must use their data to determine a focus that will improve student achievement, and then stay the course. Sometimes you have to say NO to yet another program. And in determining that focus, it’s important for the principal to think politically and strategically. 
5.  How you communicate the message matters. Everyone – faculty, students, parents and the community – needs to understand why the school is implementing something. For example, when we decided to implement our Literacy Initiative at Brockton High, we met with our students and explained why Reading, Writing, Speaking and Reasoning would be taught in every class. They understood that we were deemed a failing school, and we knew that this was not the best we could be. We shared how our focus on literacy would help them succeed not only on a state test, but also in their classes, in college and in their lives beyond school. We shared with our faculty how their instruction would be the key to our students’ success, and everyone was trained in how to teach these literacy skills.  Furthermore, we shared this literacy approach with our parents, and even developed a school brochure explaining the Literacy Initiative for the community. When everyone understands WHY, they will much more likely support the process.
6.  It’s all about instruction. That is the key to school improvement. As Mike Schmoker reminds us in Results Now, instruction is the most important factor in student achievement, or as he says bluntly, “It’s about teaching stupid.” At Brockton High, when we ALL learned how to teach these literacy skills to our students, they learned it better. The improvement in student achievement at Brockton High happened because of the adults; we focused our instruction and it made a difference for our students.
7.  What gets monitored is what gets done. Determining whether what we are doing is working is essential to school improvement, and that falls squarely on the shoulders of the principal. Often monitoring is seen in a negative, even punitive light. That is not it at all. Direct observation of student learning, positive reinforcement to the faculty and the students and the establishment of systems in which teachers can compare and discuss student work all support a culture of learning while always monitoring the effectiveness of what we do.
8. Take on the resistance – directly.  Change is difficult for everyone, and how the principal deals with resistance to change can directly impact success. In nearly every presentation I make I am asked about getting the buy-in from the faculty and my answer is always the same: real buy-in comes when you get results, and that can take time. So helping faculty understand the impact they will make is key to getting everyone on board. However, in every change effort there will be those who do not support the plan, and in some cases they will even try to subvert the effort. This is where principal leadership is critical.  It is an area that I wish I was better prepared for when I stepped into leadership. Structuring and having difficult conversations, and insisting on and supporting the implementation of the school plan takes planning and strategy. These are necessary skills for any principal, and perhaps the most difficult part of the job.
9.  Change the culture celebrate and publicize, marketing your school. One of my colleagues at the International Center for Leadership in Education, Eric Sheninger, refers to this as becoming the school’s storyteller, or marketer-in-chief. Absolutely! Developing a media plan, telling the positive story of the school and getting the message out are critical responsibilities of the principal. Yet again, this is an area where leadership preparation programs are often lacking.
10.  And finally, remember to use humor! Despite all the craziness that can swirl around us as principals, there is always something to smile about. Be sure to take time to laugh, to share the stories in the “You just can’t make this up” category and to remember the joy in the work we do as principals!

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our blessings.  This is also a time to spend with family and friends.  I have created these cards to share with my family.  I thought it would be great to jot down our blessings this year.  It will make a sweet memento of our holiday,

Each person will write down their Blessing of the Past, Blessing of the Present, and Blessing of the Future.

I hope your Thanksgiving holiday is a blessing!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Student Centered Coaching


I am working with reading coaches this year.  As I have prepared for this wonderful opportunity, Diane Sweeney's website and resources have been very helpful.  This is just one of her videos.
Her blog provides more great information!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Annotating Text


I love this poster!  Reading with a pencil is a great way to look at annotating!  Thinking out loud on paper is another way to look at it.  Our students need to THINK and write down their thoughts!
So, what do you look for when annotating?  I compiled a list of ideas from several sources. 

Here is a (Read Write Think) great lesson on annotating.  Just adapt to you grade level! 

Here is an article that explains annotation!

Photos are great to "read" with a pencil!  If you would like to know more about visual literacy, you can read about it here!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mr. Schu

If you need inspiration for finding and sharing children's literature, you need to visit Watch.Connect.Read. Mr. Schu is a K-5 teacher-librarian who works diligently to put the right book in every child's hand.  In his current blog post, he has a great selection of book trailers that you could use in your classroom.  Creating interest will lead to engaged readers!  

Here is one of my current favorites.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

25 Kindle Books for $1.00 each!

Until July 31,2014 you can buy 25 books for $1.00 each on Amazon!  What a great way to try it out and see if your kiddos like reading ebooks!  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Beginning Inquiry

I had the wonderful opportunity to work with several second-grade teachers to develop an integrated unit of study.  Science and ELA standards were used to create a mini-inquiry.  Students researched the Life Cycle of butterflies and frogs.  Students could choose from many leveled texts available for the inquiry. It is so important to have text sets ready for students! You need material for all of your readers. It takes planning to make this happen. We had to order books for the study. 

Here is a copy of the form used to help the students begin the inquiry.  The teacher put a picture on the SmartBoard and the students helped her fill it in. This chart can be made into a poster and laminated. Students can use it later in a station. 
Be sure to model the chart for students!  We started with an exciting picture that made them curious and engaged. Teachers used a photograph similar to the one below:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Vocabulary and Text Talk Lessons


What does the research tell us about vocabulary instruction?

Frequent exposure to targeted vocabulary words. Biemiller and Boote (2006) found that repeated reading of a storybook resulted in greater average gains in word knowledge for young children.

Explicit instruction of targeted vocabulary words. Biemiller and Boote (2006) also found that word explanations taught directly during the reading of a storybook enhanced children’s understanding of word meanings. Nash and Snowling (2006) found that using a contextual approach to instruction produced greater vocabulary gains than lessons that emphasized learning word definitions.

Questioning and language engagement. Scaffolding questions, that is, moving from low-demand questions to high-demand questions, promotes greater gains in word learning (Blewitt, Rump, Shealy, & Cook, 2009). Vocabulary instruction should include teacher-student activities and interactive activities that target new words (Coyne, McCoach & Kapp, 2007).

In summary, active vocabulary instruction should permeate a classroom and contain rich and interesting information. Vocabulary instruction should cover many words that have been skillfully and carefully chosen to reduce vocabulary gaps and improve students’ abilities to apply word knowledge to the task of comprehension.

Text Talk is an approach to read alouds that is designed to enhance young children’s ability to construct meaning from decontextualized language. (Beck & McKeown, 2001; Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002). 

Utah Reading First educators created a collection of Text Talk lessons sparked from the work of Beck and McKeown’s research and findings. 
These lessons provide educators with a resource to accomplish the complex and demanding task of developing children’s literacy using read-alouds. The ultimate goal of a Text Talk lesson is twofold: 
1.) Getting children to talk about the text, considering 
ideas using decontextualized language to improve comprehension, and 
2.) the acquisition of vocabulary. 

In order to increase comprehension, teachers are reading while adding interspersed  discussion to focus, monitor, and scaffold learning; helping the children to respond to  the text rather than the illustrations. Discussions are based on the actual text instead of  permitting students’ responses to rely strictly on their background knowledge. 

The lessons are non-graded for K-6.  Click on this link to see sample Text Talk lessons created by Utah Reading First Educators!  There are 101 different lessons.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Leprechaun Kisses Poem

St. Patrick's Day Treat
I enjoy giving small treats to brighten the day!  This poem is adorable and attached to a plastic bag with a few chocolate kisses makes a sweet treat!  Just write their name in green on the clover or print on green paper.  This version will save you money on ink!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Valentine Poem Freebie 2014

I Made My Dog a Valentine
by Jack Prelutsky

Children love funny poems for Valentine's Day! They also love their pets!  What a great combination!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Changing the World!

a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.

Do you have it in your heart to make a difference?  To change the world? 

I do!

I want to leave a legacy of loving, learning, teaching, and inspiring others to grow and live an abundant and audacious life!  Yes, even at work!

My dad has always reminded me that my perspective counts!  I value his simple and straightforward approach to life. The person that I can change is ME!  Yep, only me.  How I decide to approach this life will determine my happiness factor.

Teaching has changed greatly since I began my career many years ago.  When I started there were no standards.  Just textbooks!  What I remember most from those years is how much I loved those children! 
Today more than ever we must focus on our love for children.  There are so many things that can rob us of our joy.  

I read this article in Leadership 360  about Sam Berns.  Sam suffered from a very rare illness that recently ended his precious life.  Sam's perspective on life can help us all.  Take a few minutes and listen to his philosophy for a happy life:


Sam's Lessons:
Don't focus (waste your energy) on what you can't do; focus on what you CAN do!
Surround yourself with positive people who support you!
Keep moving forward!
Never miss a party!

I want to remember and take his advice to heart!  There are so many things that I can do as an educator that can change the lives of the students I serve.  I can be a bright light in a teacher's life!

I want to be that positive person that supports others.  My attitude can be the driving force that changes the climate of a school.  Supporting others and living life with them!  I love my family and friends!  I also love teachers and the children we serve!

Keep moving forward!  I must learn from the past, focus on the present, and plan for the future.  I must keep current with my craft.  My learning never stops.  If a child is struggling, what do I need to learn that will help them?  How might I change my instruction to meet the needs of my students? How can I support teachers and help them be more confident and secure?

Celebrate!  Enjoy this life!  Celebrate at school and at home.  Children thrive when they are surrounded by people that will celebrate when they succeed and support them when they struggle.  I love a party!  Creating a fun and happy environment at school is never a waste of time.  You can teach and have fun at the same time!

What a courageous young man!  His bravery is an example for us all.  My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.  

Go and change your world! You most certainly CAN!

Monday, January 13, 2014

MLK Day 2014

Freedom Hands

In honor of Martin Luther King and the message of diversity, Crayola has a wonderful craftivity!
This would be perfect for K-8.  The questions suggested are a great start to developing a wonderful lesson!
Add a comprehension passage from Readworks before your craft!
Add some Read Alouds listed here!

Have students choose a favorite MLK quote to write about!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Basic Note Taking Skills

Do you ever take notes that look like this?  I was reading an article on 19 Tricks Everyone Should Know for the IPad this morning.  If I write things down it helps me remember!  Adults are continually taking notes, or not:
So funny and so true!!  
One App that has changed the way that I take notes is Evernote!  I always have my notes, and I can easily share them with others.  (Useful Tutorial on Evernote!)

With the demands of the CCSS, students will be engaged in reading complex texts closely, writing, reflecting, speaking, and producing finished products. In order to do this, students will need to know how to take meaningful notes! 
I believe that students in kindergarten need to know how to take simple notes by drawing or writing.  

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.K.2 Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.

So, how do we teach this skill?

Dash Notes/Facts
Deconstructing and Reconstructing Information
We use a variety of tools and techniques to generate and organize information and ideas. One way of taking notes or note-making is Dash Notes.   These are also called Dash Facts when reading nonfiction. (Ralph Fletcher).  
"Just as we must make meaning, so we must make notes---in our head, on the page, and in our notebooks" (Jim Burke).  Looking at note-taking as note-making really changes our perspective. 

We teach students that note-taking involves jotting down a Dash of important information, not copying an entire paragraph.  Just like a dash of salt or a dash of pepper makes food tasty; an entire bottle ruins the dish! 
  • It is best to write Dash Notes in your own words, but without changing the meaning.  
  • Keep your notes short and to the point. Condense your material so you can grasp it rapidly.
  • Leave space and try to pick up the material you miss at a later date, either through reading, questioning, or common sense.

Shortly after making your notes, go back and rework (not recopy!) your notes by adding extra points, spelling out unclear items, etc. Remember, we forget quickly. We should be able to look at our notes two weeks from now and remember what we meant!

I think that Tony Stead has some great ideas for taking notes when reading nonfiction:
Reality Checks,Teaching Reading Comprehension with Nonfiction, K-5

Make sure you read the text at least twice so that you really understand what the author has said.
  Write down key words or phrases that you think are important on a retelling web.
  Put the text away.
Using only the retelling web, try to retell the information.
  If you have problems retelling, look at the text again and see what extra words you need to include to help you remember

I suggest modeling note-taking skills with your students several times!  Use the following lesson as a guide!

                     Sample Lesson for Teaching Dash Notes             
Ralph Fletcher, Nonfiction Craft

In your research notebook, write the topic you are researching.
Ex. Life in the American Colonies
Each time you read in a new book , write the title and author.
Ex. Daily Life in Colonial America by Don Nardo
When you find an interesting fact as you are reading, one that will add to your research, look away from the book.
Write just a few words to hold the facts.  Put a dash in front of your “dash notes.”
Ex. –Colonial America
Add the page number.
Ex. –few cities 6
Ex. –populations in rural areas 6
Ex. settlers vs. Native Americans 7
Ex. settlers  7
saw land as desolate wilderness
needing to be put into production
    Ex.  Indians
    saw relationship between man and natural regions
    part of natural order

When you are done reading the section or when you are ready to begin drafting that part, turn each dash note into a complete sentence. You may want to combine dash notes into a longer sentence.

Ex. Colonial America had few cities. Most of the population was in the rural areas, surrounded by wilderness. Although the Indians and settlers both lived in this land, the Indians and the settlers saw the land of America in very different ways. The settlers saw the land as unproductive, needing to be tamed. The Indians thought  of themselves as part of the land. They looked at the land as beautiful, to be loved and kept in its natural state.

Some students like to do this in a four part grid in their notebook:

Book (or Article) and Author
Dash facts with page number
Synthesis paragraph

Thanks to my colleagues at the SCDE for the above lesson!

Good luck!  I would love to hear from you!  How do you teach note-taking skills?