Reflections on a Community of Learners

Another busy week, as we completed week 2 of the 2011 -2012 school year. It was a week packed with authentic and committed learning by teachers and students alike. I am specifically referring to the incredible work done by teachers and students this week at Annie Sullivan Middle School as they learned together about 9.11. In early August I sent out an email to staff asking for a committee of teachers to develop lessons for 9.11 and to plan a special ceremony. We had noted at a staff meeting at the end of last school year that it would be important to plan a special ceremony to hallmark the tenth anniversary of 9.11. All of a sudden it was August 2011 and the next school year was about to begin.  Within minutes of sending out the email, four teachers volunteered to plan the ceremony and develop pre lessons that would connect and lead up to the ceremony and also some post lessons that would follow up on what they just learned about and experienced.

These talented educators very quickly developed a unit that was engaging, enlightening and sensitive. It was multifaceted and encouraged intergenerational conversations. The first lesson involved students interviewing families and friends: asking them to share their stories and recollections of that tragic day ten years ago. Another lesson involved learning about the history behind the flag that was raised during the ceremony. (The father of one of our teachers donated his Aunt’s flag from her funeral as she served in WWII, as a nurse.) We will now fly this flag on special days such as Veteran’s Day, Pearl Harbor Day, and Memorial Day.) The lessons involved teacher and students sharing their individual stories and as one teacher remarked throughout the week, “Everyone has a story to tell” One example of a moving story is about a father of one of our eighth graders who was tasked with returning victims’ car keys to family members.

This was powerful stuff this last week and you could tell by students comments and thier actions that learning about 9.11 really resonated with our 11- 14 year olds. Watching them silently file out of the building on Thursday to remember those who perished ten years ago and to honor those who served was truly moving. As I looked out at the sea of red, white, and blue I could not have been any prouder to be part of such a special and caring community.

 Thank you Annie Sullivan for another remarkable week of learning!

 Read more about our ceremony at




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The Power of Pink, Polka Dot Sneakers

Whew, what a week! I forgot about the extra adrenaline that we need at the start of school each year.  As I reflect on the week, I am struck once again how important the little things are  For example, my colleague, Julie Vincentsen,  the new principal of Hellen Keller Elementary School in Franklin MA and my new neighbor, bought a pair of sneakers. Now these are not your everyday pair of sneakers they are pink with polka dots!  She special ordered them and had them delivered next day air-these are very important shoes. She bought them for a very practical reason, her feet were hurting, as she visited each classroom each day and she needed an alternative to her regular shoes if her feet were to survive the year.

 As I watched Ms. V don her new kicks, her face lit up, there was added bounce in her step and off she went. She knew what she was doing when she bought those crazy looking sneakers – she knew that they would send the message I am fun, I am approachable. She would make an impression on her new students and teachers!

 Upon her return to the office  a couple of hours later she regaled us with a story that confirmed just that. You see there is a student who had been struggling with the start of school. She didn’t recognize her new principal and the previous two days she even closed her eyes when Ms. V walked by her in the hallway. Oh, but Friday was going to be different because her favorite color is pink. With the help of her teachers they arranged a “chance” encounter in the office with Ms. V.  and the rest is history.

Well, you can guess what happened next? Of course you can, because as educators we do little things that make a difference in our students’ lives  each and every day . That special check in, orchestrating a chance meeting, changing a student’s schedule, helping with a jammed  locker, or wearing sneakers that you know will resonate with your students. 

Congratulations, Ms. V  on making your students and teachers first week of school fun, engaging and for sending the most important message that you are approachable. I am so glad you are next door and we can share these important educational moments on the spot-it will help us reach new heights in our careers.


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Just when I thought I would have my first summer in 12 years when I did not have to hire a teacher…

But, alas an unexpected transfer and I need to hire. In education expect the unexpected. So it got me thinking about what I look for when hiring a teacher. Here are my thoughts:

I look for the teacher who knows that there is no higher purpose than sharing an “Aha” moment with a student. My experiences, observations and readings have confirmed that the best teachers are the ones who by their own words, by their very presence, exude enthusiasm and an unabashed love for children and the craft of teaching. I look for the teacher who loves what he/she is doing, who sees that every day holds new and exciting opportunities for each member of our learning community, who understands that reflection and feedback are essential to growing as an educator, who knows mistakes are ok, and finally, someone who can share a good laugh on any given day.

Educational Consultant Carol Ann Tomlinson writes in the December/January edition of Educational Leadership, “The best teachers I have known are humbled by how much more they need to learn.” This is, I believe, the most single important quality that a classroom teacher should possess – the humbleness to know and accept that there is always more to learn. I look for the teacher who is thirsty for more knowledge about every aspect of his or her craft – from the subject matter to differentiating instruction to understanding that each of our students needs our commitment to help them learn and grow.

I look for the teacher who knows that every child is important and who will reach out to help each one. I look for the teacher who knows that content is important but who also knows the classroom must be a safe and nurturing place in order for real learning to take place. I look for the classroom teacher who knows that students make mistakes and will dig holes for themselves but who knows it is his or her job to help get them out of those holes. Rick Wormeli, Educational Consultant queries, “Do we want to be rim wavers or are we going to help every student in our classroom?” I am looking for a teacher who will pull that student out of the hole and not stand by, but will do whatever it takes to help.

I look for a teacher who radiates energy. This energy comes from the love of his or her subject, the desire to share what he or she knows with students, and the excitement that his or her students generate in a lively, active, and safe classroom. Students in this class are not afraid to participate and are not afraid to make mistakes because they know that, from these mistakes, understanding and knowledge will come. Energy also can come in another form. It can be a quiet grace that the teacher possesses – an approachable and accepting demeanor. An energy that says I am here for you.

Finally, I look for a teacher who is a team player; a teacher who understands the power of a team and what can be accomplished with teamwork; a teacher who knows that when working in concert, towards one goal, our successes will multiply. There is no greater satisfaction than when you can share a student success with a team or team member with whom you have closely worked. I have come to firmly believe that the power of collaboration not only results in our optimal work but it also makes our jobs more rewarding and fulfilling. 



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How to Build a House

How to build a house

Excellent video – worth watching. It will surprise you and remind you not to work on Sundays!

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How to Stay Energized?

So here I am at #EdCampBos Ask me if I thought I was going to attend last night after perhaps one of the most draining weeks I have had in a long time, and I would have told you I just can’t do it. I need rest, I need sleep, I am bone tired! Yes, it is springtime in a middle school and it is just an exhausting time of year! Eighth graders are ready to move on or so they think they are, teachers can’t work any harder or faster, administrators can’t plan for or organize any more activities for the end of the year.

I am glad I am here, well first of alll this is my first blog, becsue Edcamp empowered me -yes I can do this, yes I have things to say. I never lack for things to say in my building to my colleagues, my teachers, my friends but this is a new forum. I worry: What will people think? Will they care about what I have to say? What do I say?

 I heard today: pick a theme, pick a time and you are a blooger! Thanks  to #@rmbyrne I have posted my first blog and thanks to my friend/colleague #@jvincentsen for convincing me that I do have the energy -the stamina to keep learning.

Great way to spend a Saturday!

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