Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012: Year That Changed The Game

I can hardly remember what my professional life (and personal life for that matter) was like a year ago... before I joined Twitter... before I started blogging... before I started my doctorate at Penn... before we were named a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School... before I started being pushed so far out of comfort zone that being uncomfortable has become the new norm!

2012 has been an incredible year for me in terms of my professional development and growth as an educator, lead learner and administrator and I owe a huge thanks to the PLN I have developed on Twitter for that change! I am so glad I overcame my initial fears and concerns about participating in the world of Social Media (you know the concerns - that Twitter was only a place to find out whether or not Rihanna was hanging out with Chris Brown again or whether Jessica Simpson was pregnant again)! Twitter is literally the BEST Professional Development experience any educator could ask for because it can be personalized, it can happen whenever and wherever and it is FREE!! What can be better than that? Do you want to watch an episode of Modern Family and participate in some PD at the same time? Twitter lets you do that! Do you want help deciding if 1:1 tablet implementation at the elementary level makes sense? Twitter lets you do that! Do you want to share the successes and/or struggles you are experiencing in your professional world in the hopes that someone will offer you perspective and support when necessary? Twitter lets you do that!

I will always be grateful to the people who have opened my eyes to the power of Twitter... Eric Sheninger, whose feature in Scholastic magazine pushed me to at least dip my toe in the shallow end of the pool known as the Twitterverse... Joe Mazza, whose weekly #ptchat on Wednesdays at 9pm has given me an abundance of ideas on how to strengthen the home/school connection; I am also honored to call Joe a friend in "real life" as we are both lead learners at the elementary level and are in the same doctoral program at Penn... Jessica Johnson whose staff blog has inspired me to start my own staff blog and who helps facilitate the weekly #educoach chat (with Shira and Kathy) every Wednesday, which is a weekly reminder that coaching is a critical part of leading; Jessica also shares an interest in Bucket Filling and I had a chance to record my first ever Podcast because of her connection with Jeff Bradbury and the awesome TeacherCast resource... then there is Todd Whitaker who is a ROCK STAR in my eyes as an instructional leader because his books and tweets inspire me to be a better and more effective leader! Then there is the awesome #satchat crew - Scott Rocco, Brad Currie and Bill Krakower - who help me kick off the weekend (7:30am EST on Saturdays) with an invigorating conversation that gets me excited about my role as the lead learner/principal of Cantiague Elementary School... then there are tweet-extraordinaires Steven Anderson, George Couros, Nicholas Provenzano and Vicki Davis who have taught me so much about Edtech and the endless possibilities of how technology should and could be infused into every learning experience; Tom Whitby and Peter DeWitt were major inspirations for me to start blogging; Jerry Blumengarten who has an endless amount of incredible resources on his website - DEFINITELY check it out! This list could seriously go on forever but I think you get the idea... Twitter has helped me grow because of the Connected Educators who are willing to share and help push me even further out of my comfort zone on a daily basis... THANK YOU ALL!

Twitter was just the beginning though - I have learned so many other things through the Twitterverse that have literally changed the way that I function on a daily basis...

  • I have learned about Zite, which has literally changed the way I start my day! I cannot begin getting ready for the day if I don't spend time reading through the blogs, posts and articles organized by Zite for me! (Eric taught me about this one at ASCD 2012!!)
  • I have learned about Google Docs (and many other Google components) that have shown me different ways to harness and focus the power of collaboration - what an amazing (and FREE) resource!! I have already created an account and started checking things out!
  • I have learned about Evernote, which has literally changed my professional life! It is an incredible app that allows me to type up stuff, take pictures, etc. and access the material from any device where I have downloaded the app because of the way it syncs! So, while doing walkthroughs each day in the building, I walk around with my iPad and take notes using Evernote and then when I get home at night those notes are on my laptop, which makes my life so much easier when offering specific praise or feedback! I love Evernote so much that I wrote a whole post about it and how it can be used to successfully support literacy instruction!
  • I have learned about Diigo, which is such an amazing tool whose potential I haven't even fully realized yet! Basically, it allows me to visit different websites, read through them, make notes or highlight parts of the text and then bookmark it to my diigo account so I can access it later! And, I can access Diigo from any computer so all my bookmarks travel with me - AMAZING! (By the way, also LOVE using Symbaloo for this purpose too - so cool!!)

This list could also go on FOREVER because I am literally learning new and exciting things each and EVERY day... I learned how to create a QR Code (so EASY), how to make music online using UJAM, how to use AppShed to create my own app (slightly tough but totally doable with some time and effort - well worth it!!), and most importantly, I started my own BLOG which makes me feel empowered and has allowed me a whole other outlet for my ideas, successes, failures and passions as they relate to the world of education! It has given me a voice and audience that I never thought imaginable and for that, I will always be grateful!

Needless to say, 2012 has been a crazy busy year (didn't even touch on the Blue Ribbon or doctoral program because those deserve their own posts) but most importantly, it has been the year of growth; the year of empowerment; the year where I took control of my own professional development; the year where I become a Connected Educator; the year that changed the game!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tragedy: Reaching Out to Parents

After the events that unfolded on Friday in Connecticut, those of us in leadership positions within the world of education must maintain an open line of communication between school and home. This communication is key to ensuring that our children feel safe and secure in school and that they know their parents and teachers are in constant communication. Below is an excerpt from an email that I sent to parents this morning in preparation for tomorrow morning and the children returning to school.

Good morning! We hope this email finds you all doing well on this Sunday morning. We can imagine that it has been a difficult weekend for all of us in light of the events that unfolded on Friday in Newton, CT at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Although we are all aware of the lives lost in this unfathomable tragedy, we should also try and find hope and strength in the stories about the heroes in the community during this difficult time – the teachers who protected the lives of the other 580 students and 70 or so staff members in that building so that they were able to escape; the emergency responders who risked their lives to save as many people as possible; and the neighbors who came together as a community in Newtown to help sustain each other and begin the healing process.

In this time of devastation, there are also the glimmers of hope, strength and perseverance. It is with these characteristics that we will greet the children tomorrow morning as they come back to Cantiague. We will maintain normalcy, lead the day with strength and offer the children support and hope as they need it. We will try and keep the discussions at a minimum about the tragedy in CT in the hopes that many parents have already spoken to their children about this event. In case anyone feels they need more ideas on how to discuss the tragedy, we have amassed some additional websites that offer suggestions, tips and ideas for speaking with children…

We wish you all a wonderful rest of the weekend and please know that our main priority each and every day at Cantiague is to keep the children safe, happy and feeling secure. Please feel free to email us if you have any questions or concerns.

Feel free to use any or all of this email for communication with your parents. Strong and constant communication between home and school is paramount in any successful learning community.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Glass Walls

As lead learners, administrators and educators, it is our responsibility to transform the thick brick barriers surrounding our school buildings into clear, transparent walls of glass! We should want our community to see all the amazing things happening in school and we should want our children to have a strong connection with the community around them. A positive and productive home/school connection, rooted in strong two-way communication, is critical to the success of all of our students and the school in general. In this day and age of Common Core Standards, APPR, SLOs and the standardized testing craze that has consumed our schools, we cannot lose sight of what matters most and why we entered the world of education - to make a difference in the lives of children. Together, with the families of our students, we must collaborate to help our children learn, grow and develop the skills they need to be successful adults who contribute positively to the world!

Based on various conversations I have had with several other educators, the communication between home and school seems to be inconsistent at best. In some cases parents get a newsletter once a month (by the way, it is hard to talk to your child about something they did weeks ago so try and be more current and timely); while in other settings, parents have to rely on interrogating their child to find out a little bit about what is happening in school. I really don't understand how this is possible in 2012! Why do we work so hard to keep everything hidden in our classrooms? In our schools? Why not share all of the amazing things happening in our spaces with the parents and community? Why not spotlight the successes (and challenges) that our children are experiencing each day at school? I don't know about everyone else, but as a parent, I want nothing more than to know what my son is learning about in school and how he feels about his learning experiences and about himself as a learner. And as an educator, one of the highlights of my day is sharing all of the awesome stuff happening in our building - whether through an email to parents, Tweets throughout the day or a blog post, I want the entire community to know that incredible things are happening in our school every minute of the day. Here is an excerpt of an email that I sent home to the entire parent community late last week...

Good afternoon – we hope this email finds you all doing well and that everyone is having a wonderful week. The children had a busy day today and were thrilled to get outside for outdoor recess on this fall-like day. Aside from the lunch and recess experience, the day provided for some important and meaningful learning opportunities. Here is a glimpse into some of the exciting things our children have been working on this week…

·        Our kindergarteners were engaged in some great writing during their Writing Workshop experience. They are currently immersed in a study of nonfiction writing that focuses on Lists and Labels and today they created their own pieces where they wrote a Wish List- they were so engaged the whole time!
·        Our first graders continue their journey with Functional Writing as part of their Writer’s Workshop experience by examining different artifacts and concrete examples of Functional Writing as they build schema and background knowledge.
·        Our second graders recently explored the seeds of different fruits and vegetables in the Science Room as part of their science unit of study. The children were excited to take apart lemons, peppers and tomatoes as they searched for their seeds and categorized them – it was a lot of fun!
·        Our third graders have been doing a lot of wonderful work in Reading Workshop as they explore the idea of questioning and wondering to help build comprehension while reading independently. The study has taken a sophisticated turn as the children are exploring the differences between “thick” (complex) and “thin” (basic) questions!
·        Our fourth graders continue their studies in mathematics where they are problem solving with an emphasis on multiplication with multi-digit numbers. The children have learned the traditional algorithm but have also been exposed to the idea of partial products as a way to build their conceptual understandings.
·        Finally, our fifth graders continue their study of Italian as part of the FLES experience. The children have been involved in some improvisational conversations in Italian and the results are awesome!

But, don't stop here because there are a bunch of other things you can be doing to communicate with the families of your students and help create glass walls throughout the building. Here are some more suggestions...

1) Pick up the phone and tell a parent how wonderful their child is and how happy you are to have her/him in your class or school;

2) Take a picture of a child during a critical and successful learning experience and email it to the parents as soon as possible (preferably before the child gets home) so that the parents have a talking point and feel directly connected to the learning in school;

3) Create a professional Twitter account and use it to communicate what is happening in your learning space. Be proud of what you're doing and show it off - in 140 characters or less! You should create the account and monitor it but let the kids do the Tweeting! Maybe the day can end a couple of minutes earlier than normal and the children could be pulled into a circle on the rug for an end of day meeting where they could specifically discuss what they have learned, done and accomplished for the day, where they may even include their own personal reactions and Tweet them out!

4) Start a blog... either oversee it as the adult in the space or give the children complete control over the blog and let them communicate about what they have learned and what they are passionate and excited about moving forward. This could be AWESOME... critical thinking, collaboration, creating and then sharing with the world - what could be a better example of 21st Century Skills in action??

5) Create a Facebook page or Edmodo page as a way to extend the thinking, learning and collaborating beyond the school hours and the confines of the school building - there is a LOT of potential here so check it out!

6) SKYPE a parent or family member into the classroom so the children can interview them and find out about their role in the community (or something more general); the person SKYPing in can also ask the children specific questions about what they are learning!

7) Do a weekly or monthly newsletter (either online or one paper - whatever you prefer is fine with me) so that the parents know what is going on in the classroom - this is so important! If we want parents to support their child's learning and development, we have to let them know what their child is learning and how they are developing (at least from our perspective)!

8) Invite the parents and family members into the school and classroom as much as possible for various activities - math games, writing celebrations or PARP - whatever the case, make sure the parents feel welcome in the space where their child learns!

9) Send home a handwritten note commending the child on something positive they did on any given day - the idea of positive reinforcement is critical!

10) Establish an open door policy where parents feel comfortable coming in to see you - without transparent communication, we will not meet with success!

So, take a small step towards turning those brick walls surrounding our schools into walls of glass - our kids and community deserve this level of transparency!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Note of Thanks to Our Staff

As educational leaders, building principals, central office administrators, lead learners (or whatever term you choose to identify yourself with when in a role of administrator in the world of education), it is imperative to stop what we are doing, take a few minutes out of our day and show thanks and gratitude to those we serve. One of the most important places to start is by showing thanks to the staff members in the buildings we are blessed to be leading.

Our teachers, teacher aides, custodians, main office staff, nurses and other staff members are taking on the daily challenges of doing what is in the best interest of children - and that is no easy task. Educators (and all other support staff who work in schools) are literally making hundreds of decisions each day that directly impact the children in that space and many of those decisions, and their subsequent consequences (which are generally positive) often go unnoticed and unrecognized. It is during this time of year, at the very least, that we should take a few moments to express our gratitude for all of their hard work and their dedicated efforts in being an integral part of that proverbial village that it takes to raise and educate our children.

This is an excerpt of what I sent out to our staff today... my attempt at expressing how grateful I am to serve them and how thankful I am for their daily efforts...

Dear Friends,

I would like to wish you all a Happy & Healthy Thanksgiving holiday! May it be filled with delicious food, great memories with family and friends, maybe some football (lets go JETS), and some much needed rest and relaxation – unless you plan on hitting the stores on Black Friday- but that’s a whole other story!

This time of year always makes me smile because I am reminded that I have so much to be thankful for – my incredible family, supportive friends, my health and of course, each of you! I cannot really express how much you all mean to me and how honored I am to be the lead learner/principal/administrator of this incredibly special place! Although the daily pressures and demands can be extremely difficult at times, you could never tell while walking around this building because each of you handles everything with such grace, high levels of professionalism and selflessness. Each of you manages to put the needs of our students and colleagues at the forefront and that is what makes Cantiague so special! This was exemplified recently after Hurricane Sandy. Although many of us were impacted by loss of power or minor damage to our homes, some people suffered greater losses and when we came back together on the morning school re-opened, our primary concerns where those who suffered significant damage to their homes. This is what makes Cantiague so special – we rally around those who need the most support and give whatever possible (regardless of whether the person in need is a child or adult - we are all part of this community of learners)!

Thank you again for all that each of you do every single day. THANK YOU for your making our Curriculum Fair so awesome last week; THANK YOU for your presence at the Board Meeting last week – it meant the world to me; THANK YOU for your support in my current doctoral studies at Penn – I could never do this without your support and encouragement; THANK YOU for your support of my family and for always asking about our son – that means the world to me; THANK YOU for all that you do and know that I extremely thankful that each of you are in my life!




So, I am not saying that what I wrote is the best example of how to show thanks but it is what I chose to do today in my feeble attempt to express to our staff how much their daily work is appreciated! So, I challenge you to take a few minutes out of your busy schedule in the next week or two and show your staff how thankful you are to be working with them!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dear Dr. John King

Dear Dr. John King,

As we head into the third month of this hectic and busy school year, I felt compelled to sit down and write you this letter on behalf of my son, my students, my colleagues, many parents and all of the dedicated and passionate educators throughout the great state of New York (and beyond). I know it has been almost a year and a half since you have taken over as Commissioner of Education in New York State and in that short time, you have brought about many changes and have pushed the world of education back into the spotlight. From implementing the Common Core Standards to revamping the Annual Professional Performance Review, you have brought about a lot of change. As all effective instructional leaders know, bringing about a lot of change also requires stepping back and assessing the affects of the changes being implemented. Are they working? Do we have buy in from all constituent groups? Do people understand what is happening and why? Do people feel supported in navigating these changes and new expectations? Is the best interest of the children at the core of the decisions and ensuing changes being made?

These are just some of the questions I ask myself on a daily basis as a building principal serving approximately 400 children, 100 staff members and the surrounding community. Although all of these questions, and the opportunity to reflect on them is critical, the most important one, in my humble opinion, is whether or not I am making a decision that is in the best interest of my children. That question always has to be at the forefront in my mind because I believe that I am charged with protecting my students; advocating for my students; and ensuring that their needs, on all levels, are being met. I know your job is a consuming one so I am not sure how much quality time you have had to reflect on these questions in relation to the changes you have spearheaded. Furthermore, I don't know how much time you have to spend in classrooms speaking with our children, teachers, building leaders and parents. Just in case you haven't had much of a chance to hear from the people you are so dedicated to serving, I thought you would like to know what is happening in our schools from my humble and limited perspective as a connected educator serving as the lead learner of a K-5 building on Long Island.

First of all, our children are feeling overwhelmed, stressed out and they are starting to doubt their own abilities and it is only October. Why? Maybe it is because they are being subjected to numerous difficult tests and tasks as a result of the expectations of the Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) that have recently been put in place. Don't get me wrong - I know pre and post assessments are critical and that various data points (when properly analyzed) can be a powerful tool for guiding future instruction and personalizing learning; but, when is enough, enough? Do they really need to take a paper and pencil test in the gym in first grade as part of a Physical Education SLO? Or do they need to take the TerraNova in kindergarten as part of a literacy SLO? Or does a second grader need to take an online assessment as part of reading and mathematics SLOs that can go on for hours? Are these types of assessments really developmentally appropriate (especially when considering some of our kindergarten students are still four years old)? Is the data we are gathering actually useful or even accurate? As I heard you recently mention, each district can negotiate their own SLOs so maybe not every first grader is taking a paper and pencil test in the gym but they are taking some type of assessment even though they have barely had a chance to get acclimated to their new teacher, classroom environment and school year. Is this really in the best interest of children? I am not sure but if it is, please let me know how so I can explain it my third grader who shut down during a mathematics SLO and said he was too stupid to finish and refused to take the test (by the way, his teacher wasn't sure whether she should intervene because all she wanted to do was swoop in and take care of this little boy's emotional well being but she worried that it might compromise the integrity of the test). Please understand that I am not questioning the importance of assessment nor the analysis of data to help us better instruct our students but in light of the new APPR and SLO requirements, my question is, are we actually doing what is in the best interest of our children?

Additionally, our teachers are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, discouraged and the morale is being affected in a negative way. Why? Well, I think many educators, from my humble perspective, are feeling that their job is not about teaching and learning but instead, it is focused on assessing and showing growth on various measures. Yes, testing and showing growth are critical but when did they become more important than the art of teaching and the opportunity to construct new understandings? In a interview last year you said your fourth grade teacher, Alan Osterweil, encouraged you through his dynamic and creative teaching techniques, which is so awesome - every child should have at least one Mr. Osterweil in their lifetime. Unfortunately, I am concerned that our children will not have these types of experiences because many educators today are feeling that they have lost the flexibility to be creative because they have to "cover" the Common Core and have to get the children ready for various state tests. I don't think your intention was to stifle the creativity of our teachers but that is happening throughout the state of New York.

Teachers are feeling pressured to use test prep activities because they know they are being evaluated, at least partly, by how much growth their children show from one year to the next on the state and local measures. In recently hearing you speak, I know you mentioned that you are not in favor of a lot of test prep type of work but I don't think that part of your message has spread into the classrooms. I totally agree with you that test prep does not equate to higher test scores but instead sound instruction leads to improved student performance. Unfortunately, teachers are still feeling the pressure to prepare their children for the test - no matter what message is being sent by their principals. As a former classroom teacher who hated devoting any time to test prep workbooks or sheets, I felt compelled to do so just to level the playing field. If most other children were doing test prep then my kids had to do some too so that no one had an advantage over them (think of a catcher in baseball - if all the catchers use the special catcher's mitt, you are not sending your kid out there with an outfielder's glove). All this test prep (great business for various publishing companies) is solely for the purposes of showing growth and getting certain scores on the state tests. But, is this data even reliable? First off, the tests are different from one year to the next so how can we actually compare if a child has grown between 4th and 5th grade? Yes, their score can go up or down but does that mean we can assess their growth, or lack there of, if the current test is different than the one from the year before? Furthermore, when looking at the actual growth scores, one has to wonder if they are statistically significant and thus accurate and relevant. When the scores are analyzed by the qualified people in State Ed are the p-values found to be less .05 and thus statistically significant? I don't know but I hope so because then at least all these numbers being thrown around might have some validity.

Then again, statistical significance isn't the only problem with tying the evaluations of teachers and principals to the state test scores of our children. You recently mentioned that one of the driving forces behind the changes in APPR was to ensure that all teachers are being observed regularly and multiple times throughout the school year because one 40-minute observation would not be a fair and accurate way to evaluate the teachers for an end of the year evaluation (I totally agree). Well, to extend that train of thought, is it fair to evaluate kids and their teachers on a child's performance on one state test that may last about 40 minutes? How are these two ideas different? Is it fair to connect 20% of a teacher's evaluation to a test score based on one given day, in one moment in time? Again, I know assessments and tests are important and necessary components to any learning environment but isn't there a better type of assessment? How does answering between 35 and 70 multiple choice questions show us how much a child knows or understands? Furthermore, what types of careers do multiple choice tests prepare our children for? I know it is important to you, and every educator in NYS, to ensure that our children are college and career ready but are these types of assessments going to tell us if our children are ready for a certain job or four year degree? Please explain that to me because I want to enlighten our teachers and our parents, who have a lot of questions about all these tests. I have a hard time believing that there isn't a better way to assess our kids and what they know! We need a more meaningful, comprehensive and thorough types of assessments. Maybe our children should be creating portfolios so we can look at a collective body of work over the course of a year within a context, as opposed to these "out of context" state tests. Maybe we should give our children a test with only a few questions that forces them to synthesize and apply their knowledge in various contexts so we can assess their critical thinking skills -- wouldn't that be a better indicator of whether or not our children are college and career ready? Maybe I am totally off base with this take on state testing but I can assure you it is driving a lot of what is happening in our classrooms and I don't think that was your intention.

Finally, I need you to know that as a father of a young third grader, I am even more concerned (I am not the complaining educator right now - I am just a dad). From the day my son entered Pre-K he had a love for school and learning and my wife and I used to sit back and watch in awe. Unfortunately, that love for learning is being affected this year. Don't get me wrong - he still loves going to school because he is in an excellent NYC Public School and he has an amazing team of teachers but this goes beyond them as individuals. This is about showing growth, amassing data and making sure that all the children do well on the state tests. My son has to complete HW assignments that serve as test preparation but are not as engaging. I don't fault anyone for this type of assignment and I am sure there is some value to it but what concerns me more, is my son's reaction. This little boy who used to run up the stairs and couldn't wait to jump on the couch to complete his 30 minutes of independent reading HW (by the way, this type of work, in my eyes, is far more valuable than any packet, worksheet or workbook) is having some doubts this year. Yes, I want my son to do well in school and to do well on the state tests (for himself, his teachers and his school) but, I do not want his love for learning to be squashed in our efforts to get him college and career ready (as a result of the current system - even though his amazing teachers are doing their best to limit the affect on the children).

Please know that I am not questioning your efforts to help improve our schools. I am not even questioning your attempts to update an antiquated educational system. I am only hoping that you will take the time to step back, observe, reflect and potentially tweak the initiatives being pushed with one question guiding your process - are we doing what is in the best interest of children? We have an opportunity to change the landscape of public education but lets not do it at the expense of our successful educational institutions, our dedicated teachers and leaders and most importantly, at the expense of our children's love for learning.

Tony Sinanis
Father and Educator            

Monday, October 15, 2012

Edscape: My Choice; My PD

On Saturday I had the opportunity to attend the Edscape 2012 Conference at New Milford High School in New Jersey. The annual conference was hosted by Eric Sheninger (you can follow him on Twitter @NMHS_Principal and read his blog to learn SO MUCH every single day) at his beautiful school. The event was sponsored by Teq, who offered some great workshops too.

I had the great fortune of starting my day with the live #satchat hosted by my friends Scott Rocco (@ScottRRocco), Brad Currie (@bcurrie5) and Bill Krakower (@wkrakower) - even though Saturday was the first time I met these gentleman in person, they have been my friends and active members of my PLN for months on Twitter, which once again shows the power of SM. The live #satchat revolved around Global Leadership and how we can move our schools, students and communities forward in this day and age when being a citizen is no longer restricted to one's physical environment; instead we are all digital citizens and citizens of the world. The chat, as it does every Saturday morning at 7:30am EST & PST, was inspiring, motivating and extremely positive.

As if that wasn't enough to get the juices flowing, we then had the great privilege and honor of hearing our Keynote Speaker, Ms. Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher). Vicki is the author of the book Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds and she maintains one of the richest and most engaging blogs I have ever encountered. This was my first time hearing Vicki speak (and I got to meet her, which was pretty cool) and throughout her keynote speech, I found myself shaking my head in agreement with everything she was saying. Her passion and dedication to her students and craft were infectious and inspiring. She reminded me about the fact that the only person I could control and change was ME! I couldn't worry about those people down the road who didn't want to change or grow or try something new - NO, I had to focus on ME! I had to focus on MY growth; MY evolution; MY exploration; MY passion because a healthy and fulfilled ME can have a tremendous impact on those around ME! Here are some of the nuggets that Vicki left with me and I think are worth sharing...

  • In our schools, there are transmitters and transformers. We should all avoid being transmitters of negativity and instead focus on transforming the situation!

  • As an educational leader who strives to support those he serves, it is my responsibility to help remove the obstacles - not become an obstacle! (this one really resonated with me)

  • Even when we are feeling overwhelmed and stressed because another thing has been added to the load of expectations, we must say the following to ourselves, "I can't do everything but I can do something!" YES - we can all do a little something each and everyday!

  • Instead of blocking things out of our schools, lets focus on the things that are worth letting in to affect our community in a positive way!

  • We must involve our students in the creation of everything! If YOU build it alone, they will NOT come; if we build it together and engage our students, give them voice and empower them, they will come!

  • As educational leaders we must be knowledgeable, trustworthy and generous with our time - YES! These are critical elements to being a successful servant leader!

  • We must teach our community that online behavior has offline consequences!

  • And the one that really stuck out in my mind... our children are NOT numbers; we must love them and show them that they are important because in our schools we aren't making copies, we are making originals! BOOM!

Although my little post does Vicki's keynote speech no justice, I think people get the idea about her overarching message... I can only control ME and I must never forget that my students deserve love, respect and support while in our school! THANK YOU VICKI!

Afterwards, I had the chance to attend four different workshops and each one presented me with some great ideas and resources that I am ready to put into play over the next few weeks. First up, I took a workshop called Evernote, Edmodo, LiveBinders and QR Codes with Elissa Malespina and Melissa Butler from South Orange Middle School. I learned so many things in that hour with Elissa and Melissa. First off, I learned how to use to create my own QR Codes, which can be used in so many ways. The are a wonderful way to amass a bunch of different resources, links, photos, etc. in one little spot that someone could access with the snap of a picture on their phone or iPad - POWERFUL STUFF! I have seen the QR Codes for years and wanted so badly to learn how to create one and within minutes, Elissa had walked us all through how to create an account and create our own QR Codes. It is so easy and extremely user friendly - I have already started thinking about the QR Code I want to create to embed as part of my email signature - oh man, the possibilities are endless! They also showed us how to create a Livebinder (can't wait to do this so I can throw out all those gigantic three-ring binders taking up space on my bookshelves). The LiveBinder is a wonderful way to digitize all those things we have sitting in binders all over our buildings and they are so easy to create, modify and share! We also discussed how to use Evernote, which I am already a huge fan of and use both for personal and professional purposes. Evernote could literally change the way we do things as educators - we can collaborate on notes, keep running records on our students and embed handwritten notes that can be searched - awesome stuff! Check out this blog post I wrote about using Evernote with Balanced Literacy. Finally, they introduced us to Edmodo, which is a great resource and social media tool for teachers (like Facebook for school) that I have not fully wrapped my head around yet! You can access their whole presentation here - it is definitely worth checking out!

Then I had the chance to spend an hour with Beth Holland and learn about powerful 1:1 iPad integration in schools. What I loved most about Beth's presentation was that it was not all about the different apps we should download and let our kids use. Instead, she talked a lot about using the iPads to empower the students - she repeated that it is not about what the iPads can do, it is about what the STUDENTS can do with the iPad. This is so important because although our school hasn't even considered a 1:1 iPad implementation, if we ever do, this will be at the root of our philosophical approach - WHAT CAN THE STUDENTS DO??? Additionally, Beth spoke a lot about apps and how we must not mistake just using an app for being creative especially when many content area apps are just another form of drill and kill - this is so true! I hadn't thought about it but that is exactly what we should want to avoid if our kids do have access to iPads in school - let them create not just practice something they can do with pen and paper! Beth also shared that every iPad based project should go through four phases...

COLLECT - web links, videos, audio files, etc.

RELATE - make connections - your own, with other peers, with the world, etc.

CREATE - use the technology to create make something new (like using Animoto or the Book Creator app to create digital book guides)

DONATE - after our students are done with their projects they should give them back to the world- share them online or through SM!

After this workshop and a delicious lunch (thanks Jersey Boys Grill) I had the chance to attend the Home & School 2.0 workshop hosted by my friend Joe Mazza, lead learner at Knapp Elementary and a must follow on Twitter, and Gwen Pescatore (Home/School President) - check out their presentation. They talked about taking that home and school connection beyond the school walls in an effort to connect with as many families as possible. Joe has always spoken about the importance of meeting parents where they are an empowering them to be involved in whatever ways work for them. To that end, he hosts a weekly Parent/Teacher Chat (#ptchat) on Twitter on Wednesday nights at 9PM EST - everyone has a voice in this chat and it is definitely worth checking out! They also stressed the idea of turning the solid walls in our classrooms into glass walls so that parents can see in and feel connected to everything their children are experiencing - SO IMPORTANT! I left that space with so many ideas that I want to try with our PTA in our school. Finally, during their presentation, they also discussed some key points we should always remember when schools and homes successfully work together...

Relational Trust
Implemented With - there must be a partnership between families and the school
Finally, I attended a workshop that spotlighted various apps and resources that could be used to enhance the learning experience. The presenters, from Teq, gave us some very hands-on experiences and showed us how to use things like Scribble Press, where kids can make their own digital books, and TagPad, which I am still learning how to use!
Overall, it was an amazing experience and I left at the end of the day feeling inspired, reinvigorated and motivated to try a bunch of different things. I think those are all the markers of a successful conference. I learned more on Saturday in one day than I had in attending various 2 or 3 day workshops. Bravo to Eric, Teq and their whole team for orchestrating this powerful learning experience - it was the best $35 I had spent in a long time!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

SLO: Squashed Learning Opportunities

New York State has recently required school districts to submit updated Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) plans, which are directly connected to the end of year evaluations for all teachers and building administrators. The plans, as described on the EngageNY site, are quite comprehensive and are intended to ensure that there is an effective teacher in every classroom and effective leader in every school. WOW - that sounds great to me - I'm all for effective educators in our schools working with our children... but wait, lets dig a little deeper into this whole plan.

As part of the submitted APPR plans, districts had to incorporate various Student Learning Objectives (known in these parts as SLOs) as tools to measure growth in student achievement for teachers that are not covered by state provided growth measures (i.e. - the New York State standardized ELA and Math tests in Grades 3-8). For example, every Kindergarten teacher and Physical Education teacher and Foreign Language teacher is expected to develop an SLO, implement it at the beginning of the year to establish a baseline and then administer it again at the end of the year to assess student growth. So, what exactly is the purpose of the SLO experience? To help enhance our student learning experiences? To help educators learn more about our kids in an effort to target and personalize instruction? NO - we are administering SLOs as a way to hold educators accountable for student growth - not the daily student growth that may not be as black and white as a test score - just the growth on these meaningless, disconnected and mind numbing tests!

In the few short weeks since the start of the school year, it has become crystal clear to me that SLOs do not actually stand for meaningful Student Learning Objectives, like NYS claims; instead, SLOs really stand for Squashed Learning Opportunities. Why, you ask? Well, let me share some informal data that I have gathered over the first month of school. Over a two week period, many of our children, including our precious little kindergarteners who are a mere four years old and are excited about coming to school, have sat through over 200 minutes (almost an entire school day) of testing as part of establishing the baseline related to our wonderful SLOs. While the SLOs were being administered in our school, I watched kids cry, have break downs and completely shut down because their self-esteem was devastated by the fact that they couldn't answer certain questions connected to the SLOs. Personally, I don't understand how a policy that is intended to ensure that our children are working with effective teachers can work when we aren't allowing our teachers to TEACH because all they have time to do is test, score tests and prepare for the end of year tests that the state will use to judge their effectiveness. Does that sound like LEARNING, which the "L" in SLOs supposedly stands for? NO! In fact, it sounds like testing - pure and simple TORTUROUS TESTING - NOT learning anything meaningful and important that can be synthesized and applied during real life situations - no - just TESTING!

How much testing do our children have to be subjected to until we realize that tying any educators' evaluation (which will eventually become public information) to the scores of these tests is MEANINGLESS, USELESS and INEFFECTIVE? Haven't we learned anything from the cheating scandals that have rocked public schools in Washington DC and Atlanta (and many other school districts)? Haven't we all realized that tying test scores to teacher evaluations does not work?

We are single handily squashing learning opportunities for our children because we have become consumed by this movement to hold ineffective teachers accountable based on student growth using different types of tests. Well, I am all for getting ineffective teachers out of the classroom and away from our kids but that cannot come at the expense of our kids' love for learning or at the expense of the tireless efforts of our effective teachers! I believe that the time has come for us to start a revolution - parents, educators, administrators and the entire community must come together and advocate for the rights of our children. We must fight the policies being implemented that are promoting more standardized testing and erasing the creative learning experiences for our children that foster and nurture critical thinking skills.

This plea is not about protecting teachers or principals. This plea is not about letting schools off the hook for their levels of effectiveness. This plea is not even about shying away from the challenges of enhancing and improving our public schools. NO - this is about PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN'S RIGHT TO LEARN! We must stop SQUASHING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES and empower our educational institutions to implement instructional strategies and techniques that will foster student learning and allow our teachers to teach for the sake of learning not for getting a high score on a test! From my perspective, we cannot wait another minute to start our revolution - OUR KIDS NEED US NOW!  


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bucket Filling Bonanza

Cantiague Elementary School has been a Bucket Filling School since 2008! After the Shared Decision Making Committee Meeting decided that the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? would be the anchor for our school theme the following year things have exploded at our school. Although Bucket Filling was intended to be a one year theme, it has evolved into a philosophy and way of life at our school. Every child has read the anchor text during their time at Cantiague and each September we kick off the year with an assembly for each grade level where I read a picture book that supports or extends the Bucket Filling philosophy (see the picture below). Bucket Filling has become a way of life at Cantiague and as a result of being a Bucket Filling School we have seen an improvement in our students' self-esteem and a decrease in incidents of bullying and harassment. This way of life has provided us a common language that is simple enough for every child to understand yet powerful enough to convey a strong message. Additionally, as a result of being a Bucket Filling School here are some of the things that have happened in our school (first check out some pics & then read about the activities that have taken place)...

Our 2nd Graders writing about ways to be a Bucket Filler & avoid being a Bucket Dipper

Bulletin board in our Main Lobby that spotlights Bucket Filling & the Big Five

One of the banners we had made featuring the winning slogan from our contest

These posters hang up all over the school as a reminder

Displays like this are found in many of our classrooms as Bucket Filling is a way of life

This display is featured in our Library

One of our 2nd Graders included Being a Bucket Filler on his Heart Map for Writer's Workshop (upper center on the right side)

These are some of the books we have used to kick off each school year!

Some ideas we have implemented to further support the Bucket Filling way of life...

1) We implemented the Positive Behavior Referral Form (would be happy to share it with anyone who is interested) - each teacher in our building is given a bunch of these forms at the start of the year and they are encouraged to fill them out when they observe a child being a Bucket Filler (list of suggested things are at the bottom of the form). Our goal is to get one form completed for every child in our school. After the teachers complete the form, they give them to me and then I call the parents and tell them that their child was a Bucket Filler for whatever reason. Then I keep those forms in my office and each week a few of the kids are announced as Bucket Fillers of the Week (I get through every form before the end of the year) and they come down and get a pencil, wristband and their picture is taken and put on our website. This then gets emailed to the parents.

2) One year we had a slogan writing contest and the kids were encouraged to create their own Bucket Filling slogans. We narrowed it down to 10 slogans and then had a school-wide vote. The top three slogans (i.e. - At Cantiague Elementary we are Changing the World One Bucket At a Time) were put on banners and they hang around our building.

3) Another year we had a song writing contest and each grade level created lyrics about being a Bucket Filling school set to the music of Don't Stop Believin'. We then had a school-wide assembly and each grade got on stage and performed the song. Then we had a vote and the winning song is now our school theme song!

4) Two years ago the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders worked in small groups and created Public Service Announcements about Being a Bucket Filling and how to avoid Bucket Dipping. These PSAs were videotaped and shown across the school over a period of time.

5) We have little buckets in the lunchroom - one for each lunch table - and when tables are showing exemplary behavior they get paper drops and the table with the most drops at the end of the month gets extra recess. 

6) Each day we celebrate the Big Five (which have become the pillars of our Bucket Filling philosophy)... Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Safe, Be Positive and Be Kind - it is announced every morning and every afternoon when we remind children to be Bucket Fillers!

This is just a quick glimpse into the world of Bucket Filling at Cantiague Elementary School where we are Changing the World, One Bucket At a Time! 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Power of the Written Word

After being appointed Assistant Principal of a local elementary school in the spring of 2005, one of my first purchases was the book What Great Principals Do Differently by Todd Whitaker (if you are on Twitter, Todd is a MUST follow @ToddWhitaker). Although I wasn't a principal yet, I heard this book would offer some wonderful suggestions for things I could try as an administrator. Well, I will honestly admit that I tried nothing that first year as an administrator because I was completely overwhelmed and I imagine that I generally looked like one of those images of a chicken with no head running around in all these crazy directions... nothing really prepares one for that first year as an administrator, but that's a whole other post.

As luck would have it, the principalship in that building became available the following year and I was appointed after a lengthy interview process. The first thing I did during that initial summer as a principal was re-read What Great Principals Do Differently and made a list of all the things I wanted to implement ASAP in our school. Number 1 on my list was the weekly staff newsletter, which seemed like such an easy way to spotlight all the wonderful things happening in our school (especially within the rooms of all our Superstars) and also keep the staff updated on important upcoming events, activities and deadlines. The initial incarnation of our staff newsletter was the Monday Morning Message and one side contained the newsletter portion and the other side contained a weekly schedule of events broken down by day of the week. The initial feedback I received about the newsletter was quite positive-- unfortunately, most of the positive feedback was about the schedule of the week and not so much about the content of the newsletter but at least I knew it was being read and that was an important step 1 in the process. Over the course of the school year the newsletter started to gain traction among many of the staff members and people actually started inviting me into their classrooms to see different lessons or activities in the hopes that they would be spotlighted in the Monday Morning Message. There were also those people (you know the ones who come to you and say, "A lot of people in the building are uncomfortable with..." and in the end "a lot of people" really equals somewhere between 2 - 4 people) who complained to me that the newsletter was having a negative affect on the building because people were hurt and offended for not being spotlighted. Although my intention was certainly not to hurt anyones' feelings, I was happy to know that the newsletter was being read and that people wanted to be spotlighted... the Power of the Written Word was clear and this little staff newsletter was accomplishing a lot. Not only was I able to spotlight the sound instructional techniques and approaches taking place in our building but I was also able to subtly communicate a vision for our school... that is the Power of the Written Word!

Well, here I am seven years later (in 2008 I moved districts to become the principal of Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho, NY) and the staff newsletter is still an active part of my weekly routine. Initially there were mixed reactions to the newsletter at the news school -- some were excited to be reading it each week, others never pulled it out of their mailboxes, and yet some others had concerns that maybe this newsletter was unnecessary. Fortunately, over a short period of time the staff at Cantiague became interested in the newsletter and the schedule of the week -- but more excited about the newsletter. Not only did people want to be spotlighted but the staff loved reading about the exciting things that their colleagues were accomplishing and trying in their spaces. Our profession can be such an isolating one and this newsletter broke down the walls on some levels and encouraged the development of a Professional Learning Community. People used the newsletter as a jumping off point for conversations about instruction, for an exchange of ideas and for the informal scheduling of visits to each other's spaces to see all the great things that were happening. Once again, the Power of the Written word became crystal clear!

In 2011, the Monday Morning Message was reborn as the Fast Friday Focus and just last month I officially turned the paper newsletter into a weekly blog. Below is a sample of our weekly staff newsletter, which has become much more collaborative now that it is in the form of a blog -- people are commenting, sharing and collaborating even more!

Sample Fast Friday Focus...

Curriculum Connections...
Happy Friday to everyone as we close out the first full week of the school year! It was a busy week that featured our annual Meet The Teacher Night extravaganza, which was a huge success once again. Thank you all for working so hard to not only prepare such wonderful, thorough and informative presentations but also for making our building look so beautiful for the parents on their first official visit of the year. Between the pictures, writing samples, works of art and everything else, our hallways looked better than those of a museum - BRAVO Team Blue Ribbon!!

This last week has allowed me many wonderful opportunities to visit classrooms and different learning spaces and I cannot tell you how much fun it is to hang out in your rooms! First off, I am completely blown away by the launch of Writing Workshop in our building this year. I have seen it in almost every 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classroom and I am in awe of the work being done. First off, the kids are actually sitting and writing for extended periods of time and it is only the 12th day of school - that is unheard of! Not only is the quantity of their work impressive but the quality is awesome too. When visiting Karen's room, I could literally hear a pin drop because every kid was engrossed in their piece (check out a sample from Lindsey in Karen's class in one of the pics below). The kids had learned how to write off a picture on their notebook and the work was impressive. As if that weren't enough, Risa's kids jumped right to generating entries after her mini-lesson on special holidays and family memories - they were all so excited to share and generate entries. While visiting the third grade classrooms, I also saw some awesome stuff. The Heart Maps in the Montonelli's classroom were the most rich and impressive ones I have seen in a long time. Also, Janine had students sharing entries and she modeled how to offer positive and constructive feedback, which was so powerful. She used an entry from her own notebook and allowed the students an opportunity to share for the purposes of modeling the skill of offering feedback in appropriate ways. The importance of modeling for our kids had never been more apparent to me than what I have seen in the last couple of weeks. I have never experienced this type of Writing Workshop launch and I think this success is a credit to our collective efforts to implement the workshop in every classroom so now our kids are writers and are comfortable writing in a notebook and generating entries - it is so awesome! Thank you to all classroom teachers, Lisa D. and Team Literacy for making this happen!

This week has also provided me the opportunity to observe the launch of Shared Reading in many classrooms. I specifically spent extensive time in Rande's and Melanie's classrooms where they started the experience by introducing the Preview and Prepare process. I was so impressed with the sophisticated language used in both classrooms and with the knowledge our kids possess - they were able to identify text features, explain what they could gain from scanning the page and other such strategies and skills. The implementation of Shared Reading is such an important component to the Reading Workshop experience for many reasons but most importantly, it allows us the opportunity to "tuck" content area material into the literacy block. Use the Shared Reading experience to incorporate social studies, current events, science, non fiction, etc. because not only will it expose our kids to a bevy of genres but also helps them build schema when previewing new texts.

Finally, I saw some awesome math work happening in many of our classrooms! I spent time in Joe's room and I was so impressed with the fact that the children were able to dissect numbers and represent them in different ways. For example, they took 124 and expressed in words, expanded form, pictures, etc. I was so impressed by the strong number sense that permeated the room and the students' ability to explain their thinking and show their work - BRAVO JOE! (Check out a picture below of one of the whiteboards used during this group activity).

Please know that there are at least ten other things I could have written about here (doing Prezi with the Alites, the amazing independent reading conference I watched Tali do, the great math activity I watched in Meryl's class, the fun Spanish/English read aloud I saw Ilene do with 2nd graders, the awesome Fundations parallel activity I saw with Team Sanderly, etc.) but I don't want to overwhelm everyone with too much text...  :)

Tech Tip of the Week...
In last week's blog I spotlighted Wordle, which was being used in the Library and many of the classrooms around the building. Jeanne also uses some alternative Wordle like sites that you may want to check out (thank you Jeanne!!)...

abcya - which has a lot of resources but the Word Clouds are the Wordle-like feature; check out some of the games on this site too - really kid friendly and broken up by grade level!

tagxedo - this one costs money but worth checking out

tagul - this one allows you to create word clouds in different shapes

Schedule of the Week...

Wednesday, September 19
CST at 1:20PM

Thursday, September 20
Board of Ed. Meeting - 7:30PM at MS Library

Kids' Korner...
During recess a second grader, who was working with a bunch of other kids to construct something in the sand, came over to me and said, "Mr. Sinanis I am like the principal of this construction company." My response - "Oh yea, cool! How are you like the principal?" He says, "Because I walk around and tell people what to do!" LOL! I laughed out loud and he was totally confused why I was laughing!  :)

Pics of the Week...

               Alites graphic organizer for                              3rd Gr. whiteboard showing
              describing a character's                                     the break up of the number 124
               personality with text evidence

      Writing sample from Karen's class          Students offering feedback in Janine's room

Although the newsletter doesn't allow me an opportunity to spotlight everything I see over the course of the week, it has helped give me a platform to share, reflect and encourage... what else could I ask for as the lead learner of our building? Please feel free to use any portions of the newsletter structure (don't use any of the pics please) and feel free to contact me with any questions!    

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Blue Ribbon Staff

On Friday, we were informed that our school was being honored as a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School by the United States Department of Education. This recognition was being bestowed upon us because our students have performed at very high levels for the last several years (the data is based on scores from NYS ELA and Mathematics Tests). 


Needless to say, we were thrilled about this incredible honor and we officially kicked off the Blue Ribbon celebrations just the other day with Blue Day, where all staff and children came into school wearing every shade of blue - it was an awesome sight to behold. Over the last few days I have received many congratulatory emails, texts, Facebook messages, tweets and phone calls, which mean so much to me. One colleague in particular asked me to share, in five words or less, the main reason I thought we won this prestigious award. Well, if you know me, you know that five words or less is a challenge in itself but to try and explain why we received the Blue Ribbon honor in five words or less seemed like an impossible task. That's when it hit me... I had the answer in two words (that's right, I had three words to spare)... our staff! We were honored as a 2012 National Blue Ribbon Award School because of our amazing staff at Cantiague Elementary School. I am blessed to be the Lead Learner of the 2012 Blue Ribbon Staff!

What makes our staff so special? What makes them a 2012 Blue Ribbon Staff? Well, it is hard to capture everything in writing but I am going to give it my best shot...

  • Everyone is always smiling. It is the truth - whether staff members are talking to each other or greeting a child or engaging a parent, people are always smiling. I think this is critical because it sets such a positive tone in the building - everyone feels welcomed and our kids and families feel valued and safe in the environment - it is simply AWESOME to watch! (Ok - so sometimes we don't smile but those moments are few and far between and we are able to pull each other through those moments).

  • The staff is united and connected. Classroom teachers and specialists; veterans and rookies; traditionalists and progressive folks; no matter what the different group a person might fall into, in our school, there is no distinction; no separation; no division! Instead, the classroom teachers and specialists collaborate to strengthen and deepen the learning experiences for our kids; the veterans and rookies enjoy each other's company and support each during the highs and the lows; and the traditionalists and progressive folks share ideas and try the things learned from each other in their own spaces. No one strives to be better than anyone else... instead, we all join together and strive to be the best school in the world for our kids!

  • Everyone is proud to be an educator in our school and that sense of pride permeates the building! We don't necessarily take ourselves too seriously but we take our profession and responsibility to our kids and families quite seriously!

  • Our staff is always willing to step out of their comfort zones and try something new and different that may enhance their craft or the learning experiences of our kids. For example, four years ago when we began shifting to a Balanced Literacy approach, rooted in both the reading and writing workshop models, although it took a lot of work, training and trial and error (and yes, some frustration along the way) there was never question of IF we were going to make Balanced Literacy work for us it was always a matter of HOW we were going to make it work for us and our kids! As if that wasn't enough, today at our Faculty Meeting we started talking about the possibilities of some Flipped Faculty Meetings - check out this post by my friend Peter DeWitt (follow Peter on Twitter) about Flipped Faculty Meetings. Although we haven't officially started the process and we are not exactly sure how it will play out, I know that we will all be dedicated to taking control of our professional development and making this a positive experience!

  • Collaboration is the norm - not the exception! There is never a day that goes by while I am walking around the building that I don't see a group of staff members huddled together and working on something. People come in early, stay late, eat lunch together and meet during common preps to share, brainstorm and plan because there is this unspoken feeling that we can do things better by working together!

  • Our staff believes in every kid no matter what the readiness level! Every child in our school will get exactly what they need because their teachers will work together to make it happen. For example, if a child seems to be struggling in the area of reading, and the classroom teacher has done extensive lessons and the child is still not getting it, no one ever throws their hands up and says, "Oh well - I taught it but he just doesn't get it!" No, our teachers will consult colleagues, specialists, parents, etc. to come up with different instructional techniques that might be worth a shot in helping that specific child learn. Last year, when we officially started implementing our Instructional Support Team (I.S.T.) as part of our RtI plan (Response To Intervention), the work accomplished was amazing. One teacher would bring up a child who was struggling and come to a meeting the following week to discuss that child. The team would be comprised of different specialists and at least one other classroom teacher. Well, the amount of suggestions, tips, resources and intervention strategies shared at that table blew me away - this team, working collaboratively and going above and beyond, solved EVERY problem it encountered! Furthermore, at this point in the school year (only about 10 days in) every teacher has made some form of positive contact with the families of their students - this is what sets the tone for an awesome year!

  • Our staff works harder than any other group of people I have ever had the honor of working with in my professional career. Walking around our building each day is the gift that keeps giving. I learn so much because I see all the incredible things our kids are doing and learning as a result of our dedicated staff. I find myself thinking two things... WOW - I hope my son has teachers and teacher aides like this during his academic career and WOW - I wish I was this good of a teacher when I was in the classroom! Our staff works tirelessly to make everything great for our kids and the community as a whole. When were officially nominated for the Blue Ribbon, we had to complete an enormous application, which involved a lot of essay writing (maybe about 15 different essays). Initially I thought I was crazy for taking this on because I would never be able to get this thing done on my own. Well, I didn't need to get it done on my own because once I shared the application with the staff at a Faculty Meeting, they broke up into small groups, and on their own time, tackled most of the questions and in the end, our application was AWESOME because of their efforts.

Well, the truth is, this list could literally go on and on and on because the staff of Cantiague Elementary School is really that incredible. From the Main Office team to the Custodial Staff to the Teacher Aides to the Teachers, each "part" comes together to make up an amazing "whole" that deserves to be honored as a 2012 Blue Ribbon Staff!