Happy Thanksgiving!

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” — Albert Schweitzer

Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking of what to write for this year’s Thanksgiving edition. This year has been busier than usual. Our district is going through a number of changes as we align ourselves toward the Common Core and implement new practices to support student growth. In spite of the increased workload, our teachers, secretaries, and IA’s continue to perform their duties at the highest levels both professionally and in their care of our students. While we have come to expect this as the norm at McAuliffe, I have never seen a more dedicated, devoted, group of people. Clearly this is reason for us to be grateful that, during times of great change, our students continue to thrive and grow while participating in wonderful learning experiences. It is no wonder that we have such an amazing community!

Here are just a few recent examples of things happening at McAuliffe that we can be grateful for:

  • Art activities that require complex thinking and decision-making…and pastels… and exploring the natural world around us!
  • Hands on, engaging mathematics that build a strong foundation in conceptual understanding and procedural skills that our students will build upon throughout their lifetime.
  • The changing leaves, from deep green to fiery reds and vibrant yellows and oranges, and an opportunity for students (and adults) to play in them!
  • Trips to learn first hand about marine biology, geology, botany, theater, and the incredible beauty that surrounds us in Northern California.
  • Creative thinkers keep us fresh and on our toes which is so positive for everyone engaged in teaching and learning.
  • Jokes…in today’s fast-paced world, it’s so affirming to laugh and have fun together.
  • Whole school gatherings where singing is commonplace and sharing is natural and common.
  • A warm community of caring and thoughtful adults and children working together to build meaning and understanding of the world around us.

Ultimately, I want to wish you and your family a wonderful time of celebration and reflection. I hope that you continue to explore the world around you and I offer you two challenges: Take your children outside and encourage them to do things you did as a child…and do them together. In thinking about Albert Schweitzer’s words, I also encourage you to consider who was responsible for lighting the flame within you and sharing your gratitude with them.

Have a great vacation! We look forward to seeing you in December.
-Rick-

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Thoughts on Making Connections and Meaning, Learning Beyond the Classroom, and Conferences

I love making meaning and sense of the world around me through connections. Learning new things and revisiting old understandings is exciting and fun and engaging and I tend to retain the information longer when I have connected it to something else that I understand or know. Recently it seems that this is happening with greater frequency and I attribute the increase to being part of our thoughtful and reflective community.

A few weeks ago, I stopped by our middle school students’ overnight trip just north of Monterey. According to their website, “Camp SEA Lab fosters lifelong excitement, scientific understanding, and stewardship of our coasts and ocean by providing quality marine oriented programs that promote Science, Education and Adventure for youth, families and teachers.” This is a perfect tie into the learning experiences for our students. I was so glad to see a part of their time at McAuliffe studying marine science and that we provide fundamental strategies to engage in scientific inquiry in the real world.

You may recall reading a bit about their trip in past newsletters or heard stories from your children. I love that we offer high caliber learning experiences both in and out of the classroom. I also love that we continue to follow in the footsteps of earlier generations in the exploration and understanding of the great unknown.

Last week, I was in Chicago, presenting at the annual Responsive Classroom Leadership Conference. Schools from all over the country and around the world were there to hear about the latest research, and learn new strategies to support student learning. The focus of my talk was on academic engagement and academic choice and I demonstrated this through the lens of the learning experiences we offer across the grade levels at McAuliffe. One of the examples I shared tied in to our students’ experiences from Camp SEA Lab along with the importance of learning both in and out of the classroom. (And did I mention that student is originally from Chicago??? Small World!!)

The conference was a wonderful opportunity for me to meet and develop relationships with like-minded educators. After my presentations ended, I spoke with a number of educators who were eager to learn more about our school and couldn’t believe that a public school offered so much to children. It was a powerful reminder of how incredibly fortunate we are at McAuliffe and how rare communities like ours are, even among schools that embrace Responsive Classroom.

With four days ahead of us, I hope that you have a wonderful time with your family and friends on this long weekend. November becomes a very short month with Thanksgiving break just around the corner.

Even though the month is short in days, I encourage you not to let it rush by. Take time to reflect on the many blessings and good things in your life. Have a great weekend and will see you next Wednesday.

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Thoughts on Middle School information Night and why McAuliffe is such an incredible learning environment.

Tonight, we had our middle school information night. I’m sure that those who attended would agree that the alumni who returned to share their stories did so with a grace and ease that is highly unusual for children or adults. Each year we extend an open invitation to our alumni to return for this event to speak with parents. And each year I am amazed at how articulate and comfortable these young people are. Why is that??

What occurred to me was just how successful McAuliffe is in supporting young people as they grow into thoughtful, inquisitive, caring, reflective, independent, intelligent young adults. It goes without saying that we have amazing teachers and staff. But last night I realized just how important parent participation is in setting conditions for our students to be successful.

Over the past four years, I’ve engaged in many conversations about parent participation. Some of them have questioned the value, or asked about reducing number of hours. I have always believed that parent participation is valuable and an essential element in supporting your child’s growth.

Last night I realized that another critically benefit from the time, energy, and caring that you dedicate to our community is that you are directly and truly responsible for creating the conditions for our students to become successful young people.

Each interaction you have with a student on campus is another opportunity for that child to learn and grow and explore new ideas. Your role, whatever it may be, as big or as small as you may deem it, is incredibly important not only to the development and growth of your child, but to all the students in our community.

Thank you for making the commitment to ensuring that every child will be successful and thoughtful and reflective and caring. And empowering them to ask questions, make mistakes, and to grow in such a safe, accepting, and caring place.

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Getting back to basics

October 5th marked the third anniversary of Steve Jobs passing.  One tech ezine ran this video and I felt compelled to share it with you.

Ken Segall and Rob Siltanen are credited with writing “The Crazy Ones”… And Craig Tanimoto came up with the “Think Different” slogan.  The commercial pulls from some of the most influential people in the past century and Steve connected personally contacted with the families and foundations of those who are portrayed.

In this video, I love that he calls his colleagues back to basics and challenges them to focus on their core values.

Rather than chasing after the greatness of others, or trying to explain why we are better, I’m reminded to hone in our own core values. Like Steve did with Apple, my goal is to share McAuliffe with others in a way that captures the love of learning, exploration, opportunities for growth, and personal empowerment. It is also my goal to support our faculty,  staff and parents as we provide those incredible opportunities for our students.

This year we continue down this path having completed the advanced course for Responsive Classroom and started the first of five Writers Workshop seminars. Our next learning day is October 24th. This will be the second Writers Workshop training for your teachers. We continue to explore the ways in which children learn best and apply these strategies in our classes every chance we get.

October is here and Halloween is right around the corner. Next week we have a meeting coming up around ideas that can enhance our learning community.

This summer, we will undergo major campus renovations. In the coming months, I’ll also be sharing how your bond dollars will be used at McAuliffe.

Let’s continue to embrace change and learning both in and outside of the classroom.

Thinking Different….allowing ourselves to be the “Crazy Ones”… To think and live and play outside the box… Sounds like a good idea.

Thanks Steve for your vision, passion, drive and energy! Thanks Rob, Craig, Ken, and Lee for your creative energy!

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How much homework is too much? What do we value most?

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Teaching Children Empathy

This is a great article resulting from research at Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project. I’m delighted to see that Ashoka is playing a role in the conversation around empathy. My only thought on the 5 recommendations is that #3 should be placed at #5 because practice (for adults and kids) is imperative at all levels of supporting and developing empathy.

http://nyti.ms/1v32yPf

Reflection: This ties in to my post on Steve Jobs because of the focus on what we value most and what we are communicating to our children.

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August News 2014

A warm wind blows if…

Last night we had a record number of parent meetings. In fact, with the exception of our annual mandatory parent meeting (which is coming up next month on September 30, 7-9pm) we had the most parent meetings in one night. Nine classes were meeting all over campus. It was fun to see so many new and returning faces! Good food, warm laughter, engaging conversations all lead to a great community. It’s really as simple…and complex…as that. 

If you weren’t able to attend your class meeting earlier, please be sure that you are there for the rest of the meetings. They are so important for you, your child, and all of the children in class. Each meeting, we cover many topics from aiding, curriculum, field trips, parenting, and what to expect with your child. When you are there, it increases your understanding of what is happening in the classroom, what to expect in the month ahead, and it helps us all build the community. Your voice and your presence are important. 

On that note, I wanted to comment on one of the most hilarious parent class meetings, I’ve attended in some time.  Sarah’s class kicked off with some snacks and conversations. When I entered the room they were transitioning to an activity, “A warm wind blows if“… Many of you have played it before. It started off calm and reserved. Lots of “Hi’s” and smiles. But something happened about 5 minutes in. Laughter increased…and so did the speed people moved from one chair to the next. In no time at all grown adults were running…and when I say running, I mean sprinting across the classroom! Diving into chairs! And yes even bumping into one another as they jostled for a seat…and I believe at least one person ended up on the floor…It was hilarious!  In the spirit of our focus on writing, E.E. Cummings once said, “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” Clearly we don’t like wasting days at McAuliffe!

 

What is Responsive Classroom? 

In a nutshell, “Responsive Classroom (RC) is an evidence-based approach to elementary education that is associated with greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement, and improved school climate.” (Responsive Classroom Advanced Course, Effective Management Resource Book, p1 (c) 2014. )

The McAuliffe faculty selected the RC approach because it is aligned with our philosophy and incorporates a developmentally appropriate approach to teaching and learning. In fact, Chip Wood, author of Yard Sticks, was instrumental in the development of Responsive Classroom. 

“The Responsive Classroom approach integrates three areas. [Take a look for yourself to see if the pillars of RC are aligned with our program ]

  • Engaging Academics: Teachers create learning tasks that are active, interactive, appropriately challenging, purposeful, and connected to students’ interests. 
  • Effective Management: Teachers create a calm, orderly environment that promotes autonomy and allows students to focus on learning. 
  • Positive Community: Teachers nurture a sense of belonging, significance, and emotional safety in the classroom. Students feel comfortable taking risks and working with a variety of peers.” (ibid)

In truth, we have been engaged in this work for more than four decades. Many of our teachers attained “expert” status in these areas long before the first Responsive Classroom trainer set foot on our campus (6 years ago). At the same time, one of the incredible things about our school and our community is the deep understanding that we all continue to grow and learn. 

Responsive Classroom gives us tools to help hone our practice. It provides us with additional resources for engaging students and building community. One example of this is the seamless integration of academic content into our Class Meetings. This fosters continued student inquiry, academic engagement, and community building. It also increases the range of learning opportunities for students.  

 

Where might we learn more about Responsive Classroom?

Here is a link to their website that includes several informational videos about the program: https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/about-responsive-classroom

But you don’t have to go further than your class meeting to experience it first hand! Last night, I stopped by 6 class meetings, each of them began with an activity to break the ice and welcome you (or welcome you back) to the classroom. Getting to know one another and learning to work with one another in a safe environment is a key element of Responsive Classroom and our program at McAuliffe.  

 

Sharing RC with the district:

This morning I led a quote activity with many of the administrators in Cupertino Union School District. 

  • With 5 quotes posted around the room, the administrators were asked to find one that resonated most with them and move to that part of the room. Once they arrived at the quote, they were to share in their group what drew them to the quote. 
  • Sound familiar? We do this at McAuliffe all the time! 
  • It was fun and great to see and hear so many people share why quotes resonated with them. Everyone benefits from time to talk and get to know one another! 
  • After they shared out, I suggested a few options that would allow the inclusion of academic components. 

 

More about Responsive Classroom…

In the weeks and months ahead we will continue to share what we are learning and applying from Responsive Classroom. If you have specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask your child’s teacher, send me an email, or leave me a note. 

 

 

 

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