An Opportunity to Grow Professionally

I recently finished up a great year-long professional development opportunity that was offered to me by my school district. Towards the end of the last November I was nominated along with several other colleagues in my district to participate in the Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (STLE-D) Grant funded by NYSED. The STLE-D Grant funded projects to principals, teacher leaders, and aspiring principals to provide schools with the resources that are necessary to focus on improving curriculum and expanding instructional strategies. Each participant was encouraged to create a signature practice that would enhance not only the entire school community, but also refine personal leadership skills. Learn more about the grant here.

I focused my efforts on improving pedagogical practices and creating a shared vision around literacy practices. I wanted to take a space in our school that was dedicated to housing our guided reading materials and re-envision the space to become more organized, accessible, and more effective to teachers. Over the next year I plan to take our school’s “Book Room” and transform it to become the “Guided Reading Lab” where teachers can access guided reading materials and students can have access to digital tools to further their learning about different topics they are reading about. My goal is to create a space for teachers that is more inviting than our current space that stores our books. I want teachers to openly dialogue about their own best practices and to share their ideas about literacy lessons that have proven effective in their own classrooms. Books are such a valuable resource in the lives of our young students and to strengthen their importance is something I feel very strongly about. Over the next year I’ll share the progress that our Guided Reading Lab is making and how my grant project has taken shape in my school.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron, a teacher, blogger, and author, shared some great thoughts on classroom libraries and their value in teachers’ and students’ lives. She says, “I believe that a classroom library is the heartbeat of a teacher’s environment. It is the window into an educator’s own personality, and it reflects the importance of literacy in the classroom. I believe that every teacher — no matter what subject he or she teaches — should have one.” If this is Heather’s thoughts on a classroom library, imagine the power that a school book room can unlock for teachers and students; this is what I hope to do for my own school.

Libraries are the heartbeat of the classroom.

Libraries are the heartbeat of the classroom.

Three Lessons from an Experienced Principal


There are times when we don’t realize that through our actions we are leading and teaching others in meaningful ways. I think that the remarkable way we can influence others without knowing it is at the heart of teaching and learning. I recently had my internship advisor visit me at my school to check on the progress of my internship experience. As we walked the hallways of the school I was learning so much from her words and her actions, whether she realized it or not. Here are three pieces of wisdom she unknowingly left me with that I know will impact my future work.

1. Stop and smell the flowers…literally!  We took our time to walk around the hallways of the school to truly get a sense of the environment and spirit of the school. We popped into several rooms that reflected the culture of the organization including the cafeteria, library, computer lab, book room, and faculty room. We also walked around the outside of the school to see the playground and front of the school. As we came to the main entrance of the school I walked forward to the front door while my advisor stopped in front a lilac bush to the right of the entrance. She stopped, gently took the flower in her hands and smelled the fresh, delicate scent that the flower was giving off. She didn’t realize it, but her small action of smelling the flowers was so powerful to me. She was appreciating the beauty in the small gift that nature provides us, which can be translated into larger lessons within the school organization on a daily basis with decisions that need to be made.

2. Organizational theory will impact your practice in tremendous ways.  Up until this year I was never exposed to books by authors like Peter Senge, Thomas J. Sergiovanni, Lee G. Bolman, Terrence E. Deal, or John Kingdon. These scholars explain the ways in which those in leadership positions can significantly impact the culture of an organization. I have to admit that I needed to reread and revisit these texts to understand them because I am not used to using theory to guide my practice. My advisor recommended that I keep these texts close to me and glance through them daily. I agree that revisiting the following texts is helpful in building a positive school culture: The Fifth Discipline by,Peter Senge Educational Governance and Administration by, Thomas J. Sergiovanni, Martin Burlingame, Fred S. Coombs, and Paul W. Thurston Reframing Organizations by, Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies by, John Kingdon

3. Appreciate the people in the organization – they will become your family.  On a daily basis I have to say that I am truly impressed with the caliber of educators that I work with. The staff in my school keeps kids’ needs in mind at all times and they go above and beyond to deliver instructional plans to students. As my advisor and I visited the spaces in the school building she pointed out that small thoughtful gestures make a world of difference to the visitors in the school and the staff members. She often says that her school is like her family and I believe this statement to be so true. Small acts of kindness show people that they are cared for and this can make a world of difference for positive school culture. The quote above by Henry Adams “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” has always been a favorite quote of mine. I believe that all teachers significantly impact the lives of their students in meaningful ways. For me, my internship advisor has provided significant learning lessons for me, even beyond her awareness.

It’s Not What You’re Doing, It’s How You’re Being

One of the reflective practices of my internship experience for educational administration coursework is to provide a critical incident that has served to be a poignant moment for me in the past four months. The critical incident serves to be a reflective practice that makes you stop and think and asks you to question your beliefs, values, attitudes or behavior. It can be a specific moment in time or it can be a larger process of discovering parts of yourself that you never knew were there.

Every day of my internship is providing me with a learning experience. I entered this experience full of enthusiasm to participate in the daily tasks of a principal. As the first weeks passed by I was growing concerned that I was not making the most of my internship – I was becoming impatient with the process and yearned to do more.  I was consumed with the mind-set that I needed to appear busy as evidence that I was working hard. I thought that having long lists of “To Do” items that could be crossed off as they were handled was an accurate depiction of the job of a principal. I do tend to work best when I can accomplish a goal and then move on to the next item in an efficient manner. However, I soon realized that the job of a principal is not as neatly packaged as I had thought it to be. The critical incident I would like to describe is one that I am experiencing every day of my internship. It is not one fixed moment in time, rather this moment I would like to describe is the larger process that I am coming to terms with. This internship has afforded me the great gift to evolve as a human being, something most young people cannot describe as a by-product of their day-to-day experiences in their career.

As time has passed I soon realized that to-do lists will not grant me access to the larger vision of the job of a principal. To-do lists, albeit necessary for organization and task completion, can pigeon-hole the larger vision and mission that a community of educators yearns for. Upon reflection, the depiction I had created in my mind of a principal was one that was very narrow-minded and transactional. Throughout the first weeks of my internship I was growing impatient feeling like I was not doing anything. However, rather than doing I realized I needed to rethink my personal and professional goals that I hoped to attain from my internship. I asked myself several questions, existential in nature, and not expecting to find an answer immediately. I believe these are the most important kinds of questions as they are the markers that signify change, growth, openness, and above all mindfulness. I asked myself the following questions:

What do you hope to gain after this experience?

Why are you doing this now?

How are you seeing yourself?

How do you think others see you?

These questions are difficult and I still ponder them daily as a practical self-reflection activity. I think that these questions and the thinking process involved in pontificating collectively function to be the critical incident that I am undergoing every day of my internship.

Throughout this process, I have learned so much from my professors, colleagues, classmates, and from educators that I have virtually met through blogging on WordPress and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Every day I am learning that a principal’s job is more about observing, thinking, and connecting to the people in the school community than it is about handling managerial tasks that can be flippantly crossed off as they are completed. My beliefs about the role of a principal have undergone alterations, which I originally had not anticipated. The internship experience is a continuous learning process. I am learning more about myself but also so much about the people around me through the observation and analysis of the inner-workings in my building. What I first considered to be a journey in advancing my career is turning out to be more about self-discovery, truth-finding, and learning how to just be. 

Classroom Celebrations

St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated today in my 1st grade classroom and the students got extraordinarily creative when we asked them to create traps in hopes to capture a mischievous leprechaun. It was great to see how they used household items to build something that they designed. After building their traps they each had the chance to explain the process to the class. We all offered compliments and questions. It was really fun to take the time to have them explain their thought processes in making something that they felt so proud of. Afterwards we set the traps in hopes that they would catch a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day Eve. Below are just some examples of the creativity that was celebrated.

This student used mirrors and shiny items to lure the leprechaun into his trap.

This student used mirrors and shiny items to lure the leprechaun into his trap.

All this leprechaun has to do is climb up the ladder to find his gold.

All this leprechaun has to do is climb up the ladder to find his gold.

No leprechaun can resist the temptation of Skittles!

No leprechaun can resist the temptation of Skittles!

Inviting messages will surely capture this little leprechaun!

Inviting messages will surely capture this little leprechaun!

Popsicle sticks were cleverly used to devise this trap.

Popsicle sticks were cleverly used to devise this trap.

A colorful rainbow path leads this leprechaun into a  trap!

A colorful rainbow path leads this leprechaun into a trap!

Unfortunately those leprechauns were too sneaky to be fooled by our traps, but they were kind enough to leave behind a small note and a chocolate treat for everyone. IMG_0064 Although he did leave behind a small mess… IMG_0072 Classroom celebrations are great opportunities for students to demonstrate their creativity and imagination. Let’s continue to foster those skills that captivate the eyes, mind, and heart of others. Disclaimer: No leprechauns were harmed during this classroom celebration. 

Navigating People and Ourselves


There is always a reason why certain people cross our paths and enter our lives. It may not be for long but the reason is always unique to where you or they are on their journey. Being able to understand and navigate people is an extremely complex skill, albeit an important one. As humans we are all flawed and have areas of ourselves that need some improvement. Some of us are fighting harder battles than others. To bring understanding to relationships it is important that we remember to be open to others. Being open requires an embrace to your self, your thoughts, your actions, your words, and your heart. The practice of being open is especially important in schools where emotions typically drive people’s motivations. Schools are places where trust and understanding should be the foundation for all relationships. It takes time to cultivate these environmental qualities, but with patience, love, and care a school most definitely can be a place where relationships are fostered and cared for.

My professor showed our class a Jelaluddin Rumi poem yesterday. We spoke about the importance of communication and understanding people’s motivations. In learning your own motivations and that of other people and being ok with potential differences that arise, we can learn to function from a place of understanding.I hope this poem brings you peace as it has for me.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Jelaluddin Rumi

We Are A Constant Work in Progress

Today I watched President Obama’s speech that took place to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama. President Obama stood proudly at the foot of the Edmund Pettus bridge where 50 years ago hundreds marched to protest for the constitutional right to vote. The march on the Edmund Pettus bridge was one of three planned marches that would galvanize the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As I stood in my kitchen watching the speech live on CNN, I was struck at how far our country has come in terms of overcoming obstacles. On a day to day basis the time for a deep reflection on our nation’s history is not taken. The President so eloquently captured our nation’s most trying times and focused on the positive changes and growth we have made as a community of people.

The speech was powerful and poignant. The central message encompassed the work of not just a few, but of all Americans. The emphasis on the collective power of a group showed that together we can make amazing things happen. I know that today’s speech was directed towards all Americans on a day meant to commemorate the history that took place there 50 years ago, but it was the President’s call to young people that really struck me.

You are America. Unconstrained by habits and convention. Unencumbered by what is, and ready to seize what ought to be. For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, and new ground to cover, and bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.” -President Obama 

I plan to keep these words close to me as I find them extremely inspiring. Empowering ourselves and empowering our young people to take the first steps toward positive change will undoubtedly affect the greater good of humanity.

Celebrating the Legacy of Dr. Seuss


Today marks what would have been the 111th birthday of Theodore Geisel, or better known to most as author and cartoonist Dr. Seuss. In celebration of his life and famous works of children’s books today begins the week-long celebration of Read Across America in schools across the country. Read Across America is a program started by National Education Association and is in its 18th year of creating life-long readers by finding innovative ways to inspire a love of reading and learning.

As I walked around my school building today I witnessed so many wonderful activities that celebrated the clever drawings and catchy rhymes that are so characteristic of Dr. Seuss’ work. An ESL teacher conducted a read-aloud of my all-time favorite Green Eggs and Ham followed by a mini-lesson to teach rhyming words. Another teacher used the Cat in the Hat Camera app to take photographs of her students dressed in the costumes of iconic Seuss characters. Later in the week teachers and students  will take part in “Character Day” to bring literary characters to life by getting dressed up in their favorite book’s characters. My first grade team members couldn’t help but to dress up as characters from The Cat in the Hat.

One of my first reading memories I have is of me sitting proudly in a small wooden chair in a public library in the Bronx. I held Green Eggs and Ham in my arms and asked my father and sister to sit across for me to act as my audience. I remember holding the book eagerly just as I had seen my teacher do. I opened the book and out flew the zany, wild, laughable rhymes. I can recall how easily I had read the book just as fluent readers should, and just the way I ask my students to read now – with expression and ease.

I remember this reading memory so fondly just I am sure so many others can identify with his books. This moment is such an important part of what helped to build my reading life and for my love of reading. Thanks to Dr. Seuss for helping me to continue to foster a love of reading and learning in my students today.

Do you have a favorite Dr. Seuss book?

Schools and Creativity


Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms

It’s time to go back to the drawing board. The critical time has come for a much-needed overhaul of the education system to take place. The education reform movement has created a period of disillusionment for parents, students, and educators. Rather than praise, the education system has taken some very hard hits from all arenas in an attempt to figure out what works best for students. Ironically, we are not reforming education, instead we are moving towards a more standardized view of what learning means. Rather than reform we conform.

Educators are being reduced to a label in regards to yearly evaluation practices and as a result our teaching practices are being watered down. The expectation to be excellent is defined by results on yearly student exams in only reading, writing, and mathematics. There is so much more to school than these three academic areas, albeit important ones. I find all of this so puzzling. Within the existing paradigm of education, is there a way to change the culture of the learning organization to value creativity without functioning exclusively away from learning standards? It may seem unlikely to foster creativity and innovation in a world surrounded by assessments and standardization but I like to think that anything is possible.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

The purpose of schools should be to prepare children for their future, whatever it is that may be. The future being indiscernible makes an educator’s profession challenging, but not impossible. Educators need to enhance their students’ strengths by providing opportunities for social, emotional, mental, and academic growth. Classrooms and schools need to place value on all kinds of knowledge because there is no one single form of intelligence nor do we know what kinds of knowledge and skills will be valued in the future. It is up to us to understand who our students are on a personal level and what motivates, excites, perplexes, and challenges them. In order to do these tasks correctly we can use digital resources to help us know our students on a more personal level.

As adults we need to recognize that technology is a massive part of our lives whether or not we want it to be. It is almost impossible to avoid using some form of technology on a daily basis. Jeff DeGraff in his article “Digital Natives Vs. Digital Immigrants” defines the generational gap that exists between these two groups. Adults are now being labeled as “digital immigrants” – people born before the advent of digital technology and their counterpart is being labeled as “digital natives” – the generation of people born during or after the rise of digital technologies. While there are major difference in the belief and value system of these groups there is a tremendous lesson to be learned when both groups are open to learning from each other.

Yong Zhao, a scholar on technology and globalization in education offers some staggering statistics based on children’s use of media tools on a daily basis. Today’s young people (8 to 18 year olds) spend on average 7 hours and 38 minutes a day with media: watching TV (TV, videos, DVDs, pre-recorded shows), playing video games, listening to music, talking on the phone, and chatting with friends online. Alternately, children spend 25 minutes a day reading books, 9 minutes for magazines, and 3 minutes for newspapers. Zhao believes that as parents and educators, rather than trying to minimize the exposure children have with social media and technology tools we should embrace and understand their curiosity and happiness with all forms of technology.

If children can create pathways to better understand academic material through the use of technology then as educators we need to re-examine our skills and practices to meet the needs of our students. To accomplish these goals, as adults we need to make ourselves accessible to our students and create with them a collective sense of an open understanding and learning environment.

Losing Our Way

I have recently been exposed to many conversations regarding the well-being of teachers who feel de-professionalized in their careers due to the new reform movement in education. Unfortunately, many teachers express that that their profession, that more often than not chooses them as a calling, has left them. A huge sense of fear has infiltrated our classrooms. Instead of trusting their own judgment I have witnessed many teachers second-guess themselves in their classroom practices. How can we restore the trust and faith in ourselves as teachers and in our practice of education?

Just as doctors are required to take the Hippocratic Oath before formally entering the profession to uphold ethical standards of treating patients, maybe teachers should also make a promise to act ethically and be true to ourselves when in the classroom. Both professions directly impact the lives of those they serve by the moral decisions made by the professional. Physicians are revered in not just our society, but many others. Why is it that teaching is not held in the same regard?

Perhaps Harvard scholar Jal Mehta has unearthed the answer in his studies on the need for the professionalization of teaching. Mehta’s analysis proposes that the current movement toward educational accountability is a manufactured crisis that has plagued the educational field over the course of the 20th century. “The implication of this analysis is that while we often analyze school reform in terms of the effectiveness of particular programs, in a broader view it may be that the organization of the entire sector is problematic” (Mehta, 2013).  Rather than managing top-down mandates from business and government agencies who have low regard for public education the teaching profession needs to be re-established as the pillars upon which our society is built.

In an article from The Atlantic – The Wisdom Deficit in Schools – Michael Godsey, a high school English teacher explains his internal dilemma with the restraints posed by the Common Core State Standards in his classroom. Godsey’s experiences in the most recent years of his teaching career summarize common complaints made by many teachers. It is as if the education field has been taken hostage and the need for a restoration of faith and trust is paramount to the welfare of the profession. Godsey explains the moral responsibility he feels to raise the bar for thinking practices of his students through the exposure to rich classical texts and experiences. Godsey identifies that the current pressures on teachers affects the educational practices that he has refined over the years of his career. The reform movement that has promoted standardization of teaching has caused harm to the field of education through the disempowerment and de-skilling of teachers. Throughout various examples provided in the article, I couldn’t help but feel similarly to Godsey.