Making Meetings Meaningful: Would staff come to staff meetings if they weren’t required?

I vividly remember sitting in staff meetings as a teacher and getting talked at as the principal went over data that was so small I couldn’t even see it. To pass the time my colleagues and I would play a game called “Hydrate Now”. Whoever drank the most water was the winner. While this silly memory did build lasting friendships, it also left a lasting impression that today encourages me to put energy and effort into creating real meaning when it comes to content as well as how staff meetings look and feel. Namely, giving the majority to our time to small group rotations and choice that focuses on professional development for teachers, by teachers! 

This past week’s meeting was a great example of this kind of staff meeting turned professional development: After some quick updates all together in the library from me, one of our amazing teachers showed us different tech tips that took us deeper with online programs we currently use. From there we broke into three groups led by Rio teachers for Rio teachers. Our teachers worked in teams of two to zoom in on and share their learnings around the Workshop Model, Mentor Texts, and Conferring from the Cotsen Conference they attended last month. Teachers not presenting had choice in selecting two out of the three sessions to attend as participants. It was a beautiful afternoon of sharing and learning!

This coming week we have an optional Wednesday afternoon where teachers are welcome to attend a deeper version of each session or attend the third session that they did not yet attend. In my thinking, giving choice and making professional development optional at times is a great way to go deeper and provide opportunities for teachers to learn from one another even when it’s not a must do!

Choice, rotation, depth of learning over time, and peers teaching and learning from one another is exactly what we want to model and provide for our students as well. These are key pieces of what I believe will give a resounding yes to my opening question, not only for staff but for students: Would students come to school if they didn’t have to? I believe that when we meet student needs in this way the answer is yes.

 

What Apple Picking and Writer’s Workshop Have in Common

When I think of Writer’s Workshop I think about how we naturally teach our own children. Just today, I took my kids out to pick apples and they needed a mini-lesson on ripe apples versus unripe apples. I held up two apples, showed them the difference, and they were off! It was a short, explicit, and needed/meaningful lesson that allowed them to practice as I observed. Of course, my four year old had more skill picking only ripe apples but my two year old could also identify the truly unripe ones.

This kind of explicit showing and practicing with support is the purpose of a mini-lesson in Writer’s Workshop. Just like in life, the mini-lesson occurs throughout the writing process (from procedures for the workshop model itself, to gathering ideas, to drafting, to revising, to editing, to publishing and celebrating).

And, as in life, the most simple of things often go overlooked: Writers need time to write! Just as my own children needed time to actually pick apples, writers need time to write, practice the skill they have been explicitly taught, and make meaning individually, with their class of fellow writers, and with their teacher. The gift of time for writing is alive and well at Rio! Students are writing frequently (to build fluency), writing for extended periods of time (to build stamina), and writing on topics that resonate (to build a love of writing through meaning-making).

Enjoy these photos of our Kinder-6th grade writers in action these past few weeks using the Writer’s Workshop framework of mini-lesson, writing/conferring time, and sharing:

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New Beginnings: Be You

At every age and in every role (student, teacher, administrator, parent) I have always looked forward to the beginning of each new school year. There is something so comforting in the routine and simultaneously so exciting in the newness and possibilities. While meeting with our amazing teachers and staff during the SBC Day, we had lots of logistics to discuss and plans to make, but the most important work we did had to do with why we are here: our students!

Students, my hope for you on this first day of school is that you come as you are. I want to meet YOU! I want to get to know YOU! When we know we are already good enough we know that we can make mistakes in what we do because those mistakes don’t affect who we are at our core- this is when real learning can occur! Along with our teachers and staff, I look forward to learning right beside you tomorrow and throughout the school year.

“Thrivival” Guide

Earlier this week I overheard students excitedly talking about writing letters and making videos for next year’s students. The plan is for the teachers to give these to their new students on day one in August both as a welcome and as a way to frontload the year and decrease anxiety. 6th grader’s were calling it a “Survival Guide,” which got me thinking about what my own survival guide might look like for the new Academic Coordinator. After reflecting some more I realized that I don’t want to pass on a survival guide at all but rather a guide to thrive, a “thrivival guide.” Writing in this way, no matter if you are a child or an adult, is such a great reflective practice of closure that allows for new beginnings and honors the beauty of school or life (whatever you want to call it) as being beyond your single self in the world.

Here is my “thrivival guide” to the next AC. While it doesn’t focus on the nitty gritty of what I do each day, it does focus on the how and the why in a such a way that builds school culture and can be applied to any what:

1. Get to know people. This takes time. Take the time.

2. Get into classrooms daily. See what is really happening. Remember what it’s like to be a classroom teacher. Remember what it’s like to be a student. Ask yourself: What are my students learning? Is there joy? Is there rigor?

3. Be a student. As an admin this especially means listening to kids, parents, and teachers.

5. There is a safety and a beauty to consistency and routine. Be steady yourself always. This will help you create systems that are sustainable.

6. Success without integrity is not success. I found this quote online but it has stayed with me as one of my biggest learnings this year. Integrity is when your heart, your thoughts, your words, and your actions all work in harmony and align. Integrity means wholeness. This is when it feels easy. When you sleep deeply. When you are present. When you are truly you.

7. Be kind. Greet people. Say please and thank you.

8. Apologize. Accept apologies.

9. Forgive. You will make mistakes. Public mistakes. Big mistakes. You will make bad decisions. So forgiveness is especially important to practice with yourself.

Being an educator, like being a parent, is a job of giving and giving and giving. That being said, here is the most important life lesson Mar Vista has taught me:

10. Giving is really a receiving.

It really has been a gift working at Mar Vista this year. I want to thank each and every one of you for this experience, for this gift. I looking forward to continuing to give it all away!

Rio parents and families, come join me this Monday, June 4th at 8am for our meet and greet coffee!

Adding College to the Discussion

“I’m going to college! I’m going to college!”

This joyful refrain came from our first graders on their walk both to and from Cabrillo College- on the way there in reference to the present moment and on the way back in reference to their future selves. Not only did our 6 and 7 year olds’ words get me thinking about the importance of adding college to the discussion in elementary schools but their confidence on returning to campus truly struck me. Worls got bigger today from this visit as new possibilities opened before our students in a very tangible and real way.

In my thinking, the end of the school year lends itself to these kinds of discussions and visits because it is a natural time of accomplishment both in terms of endings and beginnings.

Here are some resources for both teachers and parents, the first of which is specific to students in Santa Cruz County:

2, 4, 6, 8 Who Do We Appreciate?! #thankateacher

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to all of our wonderful teachers.

Thank you for all that you do to keep our students at the core of our school, our community, and our practice every single day!

This week has reminded me of a short essay I wrote 14 years ago about my most influential teacher and mentor, Julia Davis. Luck would have it that I found it after a quick search in an old email account. Thank you to Julia and to all of our teachers that continue to shape our lives and the lives of our children:

Out of the many spiral notebooks I filled during my four years at Whitman College only two remain today—the two that I scribbled in during classes taught by Julia Davis. The only Whitman professor without a PhD, Julia did something that no degree guarantees: She surprised me.

“Meghan,” she said, “I want to see you in my office after class.” After nervously waiting out the class period, I took a seat.  Embarrassment turned into horror as Julia proceeded to read my paper aloud. “Please stop,” I begged. “I just can’t take this.” It wasn’t that it was a bad paper that made me cringe; rather, I had trouble listening because I heard my own voice. By listening to my emotions surrounding an experience where something was ‘not quite right,’ my paper was a re-shaping of myself. My teary-eyed reaction showed me just how much my own words meant to me. Julia simply finished reading the paper and handed it back without a grade. As I left the room, she said, “Meghan, you took a risk in writing this. Keep going with it. Keep risking.”

Today, thinking back to this specific experience and the larger context of our student/teacher relationship shows me just how long-lasting a single teacher’s influence may be. It also reminds me of the importance of having mentors even as an adult learner. Thanks to my many teachers and mentors, writing as risking continues to be one of my favorite ways to learn.