Monday, October 31, 2016

Instruction is Strong at RE Lee!

Every so often, I run into a colleague or parent when I'm in public (yes, students, the principal leaves the building and goes to places like the grocery store!) and they ask me what should be a pretty simple question... "What are you guys doing over there at RE Lee?  Your students are achieving at high levels, the climate is great, things seem to be going well..." and wait for it... "What's your secret?"

The first thing I usually say is, "How much time do you have?" because I know that in order to reveal the "magic" of our school's approach, it simply can't be done in a sentence or two (or two thousand!).
Our school is indeed pretty unique.  We are proud of our ever-increasing achievement as measured by state test scores.  We are proud of our PBIS efforts and the work we have done to create a positive and safe environment for learning.  We are proud of our history.  We are proud of our professional staff and our para support.  We are proud of our professional learning efforts.  We are proud of how we integrate 21st century skills and technology.  We are proud of our physical plant and the structures and systems that make learning comfortable.  We are proud of our partnership with other schools in Spotsylvania and throughout the state in sharing best practices and learning from each other.  We are proud of our professional learning communities, TRUE learning communities where our teachers work together to analyze and respond to student data to create respectful learning assessments, tasks and activities.  We are proud of the partnerships we have built with parents and community organizations to support students.  We are proud of our STUDENTS!!  So, yeah, how much time do you have?

As I try to frame a response to the question (and notice the look of panic on the questioner's face when I take a deep breath and get what my own children call "crazy eyes" over my excitement to tell people all about our school) I realize that our "Secret" in actually very simple.  We are focused on instruction.  It's our product.  Some organizations build widgets.. .some service your car... ours makes smarter kids.  Find me at dismissal and you will likely hear me asking kids, "What did you learn new that you didn't know when you got here?"  And a response of, "Nuthin," will get you a ticket back to class!  "Yes, I know it's 3:30... you and your teacher need more time together... you had one job!"  Immediately, I get a list of new things the student has learned as he/she makes a dash to the bus!

So, how do we do it?  What is the secret?  Let's see if these pictures can help explain it all..

Computer-based assessments, common and formative in nature. Teacher-developed based on standards and best practices. Used to INFORM instruction... makes smarter kids! 

Small groups--GUIDED learning.  The outcome of the data collected and analyzed during PLCs. Each student is on an individual plan, targeted instruction... makes smarter kids!

21st Century Learning, promoting 21st Century skills!  Whether practicing learned skills in a station, participating in blended learning assignments in Google Classroom, or using technology to research and solve a real-world problem, we are making smarter kids! 

Deep analysis of standards (our division uses the phrase unpacking the standards) during PLCs leads to rich and engaging student learning activities... this is a KG class working on ONE DAY worth of the standard to recognize and know the value of a penny... but they are also working on the standards associated with counting, problem-solving, and even doing some addition and subtraction... why?  We are making smarter kids! 

These two shots show what this looks like in our PE class... all of our ENCORE classes support academic skills while focusing on their own standards.  Here, students work in brain-based movement stations while they say letters, make the letter sounds or even say words that start or end with that sound... KINDERGARTEN!!  Increased retention of skills is the outcome!  High standards everywhere in our building.  Why... making smarter kids!

So, what's our secret?  How can we do it all?  What makes us successful?  Now, you can safely ask those questions of me.  The answer is quite simple... all we do it teach and learn.  All we do is make smarter kids.  I may still get the "crazy eyes" over my excitement, but feel free to cut me off after that first response.  The rest you can just read in the blog!

Yours in Learning,
D. Lann, principal

PS:  Notice I used the phrase smarter kids to describe our product... what we do every day is make smarter kids.  The implication of this is that

RE Lee Paving Project

For my blog followers, you are unaccustomed to seeing informational posts like this, but this project will impact our traffic flows in a major way, and I want to make sure our parents and visitors are aware:

On Friday, November 4th, our parking lots and blacktop areas will be repaved.  Please read this message carefully for details and information as this project will impact our daily activities significantly.
  • Our main parking lot will be closed for parking all day except for parent drop off and pick up times.
  • The bus loop will remain open during the day. Parents needing to drop off or pick up students or those visiting may park in the bus loop if after 9:00 and before 2:45.  Parents may also park on the black top area where staff will be parked.  Parents will need to walk to the front doors to access the building regardless of where you park.
  • Paving will begin following morning arrival.  Parent drop off will likely be crowded with work trucks and equipment so please navigate carefully. 
  • The paving crew will stop work temporarily during parent pick up in the afternoon.  As we are unsure of the status of the job or the placement of equipment, please be patient and extra cautious when accessing the main parking lot during this time.  We will follow our regular dismissal procedures on Friday so please park in the main lot and enter exit through the cafeteria doors as per usual.
  • The parking lots and blacktop areas will be closed all weekend as the crew completes work.  The project will be completed by Sunday night so we will be back to normal on Monday, Nov. 7.
Thank you for your patience during this project.  If you have the option of using school bus transportation on Friday, I would strongly recommend it.  Their routines will not be impacted.

Yours in learning,
D. Lann, principal

Monday, October 24, 2016

Our community shows up big for Harvest Festival!

What a treat it was to attend our PTA Harvest Festival this past Saturday!  This year, I was not traveling or attending one of my kids' baseball games or dance competitions on HF weekend, and I have to tell you, it was a treat to be there early, stay as long as I could and get to see all of the wonderful things we had going on this year at our Harvest Festival.

In case you missed it, you can get caught up on our Facebook page or on Twitter.  I posted lots of pictures from the event and tried to capture the overall tone of the day as best I could while I was playing games and talking to families.  Believe me, I could have gotten completely absorbed in my phone and live Tweeted the entire event, but it was just too much fun not to participate!  Besides, while some consider me a cool principal, what with a blog, Facebook and Twitter feed and all, well, my ability to walk and Tweet at the same time are severely impacted by age.  Teen readers, you will understand all too soon!  Enjoy those skills while you have them!

But enough about my age! Seriously, stop laughing at me!  It's hurtful!

Back to Harvest Festival... where to I start with the thank yous and shout outs for the volunteer crew that made this event a reality?  From our PTA Executive Board to our moms and dads, grandmothers, and family friends who volunteered, thank you! From our teachers to our custodians, paras and bookkeeper to our admins and family members.. .thank you!  From our alumni to their friends who did not even attend RE Lee in elementary school (I'm sorry you all can't go here!) thank you!!  Yes, this was one of those events that requires an army of volunteers and one that simply can not be pulled together without it.  Our community showed up!

And speaking of showing up... I made several attempts to count the number of people I saw on the blacktop or out in the punkin' patch (yes, that's how we spell it in Spotsy!) and came up with over 250 each of the three times I attempted.  I counted from the windows of the school so I could attempt to be more accurate (and less distracted 'cuz counting is hard!)  Those numbers were gathered at three different intervals between 9:00 and 1:00.  So, I know our community showed up!  Some families stayed the entire time, others came early, went to a soccer game (where I hear some of you won championships!) and came back, and others came a little later, after football games or practices or cheerleading events.  What a great turn out!  Our families win when we all get together!

If you have ever attended a kindergarten round up with me, I have mentioned that it is a good idea to exchange phone numbers and names with the people sitting around you... you will be raising your kids together for the next six years or so, maybe longer, Go, Patriots, Go, Bulldogs and Go, Knights!  This year's Harvest Festival just re-affirmed that exact suspicion for me.  Watching our kids play games together, share space at the picnic tables for lunch (thanks to our vendors too by the way!) shout and wave at each other from a distance, and of course, slide quite competitively down the blow up slide together just made my heart swell.  I was not the only one I caught doing that by the way... there were several moments when I noticed adults (no, I won't list names here, but you know who you are!) with tears of joy and gratitude, talking with pride about their children and their children's friends, many of whom they had never met face-to-face before Saturday.  Many adults stood in newly formed friendship groups of your own or caught up with families you have not seen in a while to exchange stories or get to know each other.  Yeah, our community showed up!

I am always amazed by the love and passion ya'll show for OUR kids.  I am truly impressed by the pride you take in OUR school.  I am humbled and proud that you all let me be a part of such an awesome school community!  I hear that we are expected to make America great again... regardless of your political persuasions (and I don't answer those questions before you post a bunch of replies) I'd invite anyone looking for a great America to not spend so much time trying to make it great... just hang out at our next Robert E. Lee Elementary School event and witness how great it already is!

Yours in Learning,
Daryl Lann, principal

Friday, October 21, 2016

Re-imagining Back-To-School Night... the survey results...

About three weeks ago, I asked parents and staff members to complete a survey in response to our re-imagined Back-to-School Night efforts.  What follows are the results of those surveys in chart form, cut and pasted straight from the survey provider with no analysis or input from yours truly.  I invite you to review the results and draw your own conclusions regarding the impact we had in re-imagining BTS Night this year.





We attended the literacy portion in the music room. There were just too many groups talking all at the same time. It was very hard to hear the teachers speaking. Lots of parents I know did not like the fact that you couldn't bring children and chose not to go. I also heard a lot of other parents saying they wanted more time in the room with the individual teachers. If you have more than one student at the school, it is hard racing from room to room having only short visits with each teacher. Maybe a separate night in the gym with a representative for each topic. Use of microphones so you can hear.
10/1/2016 11:54 AM

Very well done. Great discussion topics. The best back to school night that I have been to in a long time.
9/30/2016 8:09 PM

The intro with Mr Lam and video was very interesting. It would have been nice to have longer breakouts that allowed speakers to tie back what they were teaching to the video.
9/30/2016 5:05 PM 

I am very reassured that the school is grasping how advanced our world is becoming and is striving to nurture my children in today's society.
9/30/2016 1:54 PM 

The video that was shown wasn't able to be seen by all parents in the cafeteria. It was difficult to hear in the break out sessions due to multiple people talking at once and the noise level of the children who were present. While I appreciate what was trying to be accomplished with this format, it should be done in a group of voluntary participants instead of those who just happened to show up as the interest and understanding level was not the same across the board. Regarding the PTA portion, I am confused how a room full of people (probably a lot of non-PTA members) were able to vote on a budget for a group which they are not part of...If I can come vote on things for the PTA without being a member...why do I need to pay to be a member? Also, it was hard to hear Ms. Logan when she spoke. Maybe a microphone would help next time?
9/30/2016 11:55 AM 

I would have liked to attend one of the other break-out sessions rather than the dialogue in the cafeteria.
9/30/2016 11:52 AM 

I was put off by a request to be video taped during on of the breakout sessions.
9/30/2016 11:48 AM 

I wish there had been a little more time allowed to speak with the teachers
9/30/2016 11:29 AM 

It was great! Love the new format!
9/30/2016 11:12 AM 

I would have preferred more time to spend in the classroom and for the teachers to have had the opportunity to share PowerPoint presentations or other forms of sharing with us info about the school year and classroom. Any informational sessions would have been better received to be separate from Back to school night.
9/30/2016 11:00 AM 

Breakout sessions would be better if there weren't 3 different groups in each room. Hard to hear with 3 presentations going on in each room.
9/30/2016 10:58 AM 

Our leadership teams have already reviewed this information and are taking this data into consideration as we move forward with plans to involve and engage families in our programming for our students.  I appreciate those who took time to respond to the survey and value your feedback.  Since this event, we have also hosted a principal’s coffee event where several families were able to attend and share feedback with our administrative team on a variety of topics.  Be on the lookout for the next such event to be scheduled soon.
Yours in learning,

Daryl Lann, principal

Friday, September 30, 2016

Reflecting on Re-imagination

On Sept. 27, our staff embraced a new approach to Back-to-School Night.  It all kinda went down like this...

About a month before BTS Night, I gathered our admin team together and asked a question... why do we host BTS Night every year?  We brainstormed answers like, "We give parents an overview of the year in each classroom... we give families the contact information they need to contact teachers... we give families a chance to see student work on display... we give families information they need regarding routines, expectations and procedures in our classrooms...  it's a great time to meet families face to face... but it's not a conference night..."

Which prompted my next question... What else is BTS Night NOT?  We decided that BTS Night traditionally does not invite parents and family members an opportunity to engage in conversations with teachers and staff, does not easily lend itself to discussions about the importance of standards-based instruction or pedagogy (the design and delivery of instruction) and does not promote an atmosphere of open dialogue about the overall goals of school.

At about the same time, I came across a very interesting video that seem to open my eyes to some important concepts when thinking about school today and the impact our teaching and learning have on our students' futures.  We began a conversation among our teacher leaders at RE Lee and asked, quite simply, what is our mission?  What do we DO everyday and WHY?  No matter how many rabbits we chased as we explored that question, we always came back to the same thing... our mission, as stated so well by our entire school division, is to work together (with everyone who cares about OUR kids) to prepare our students for their futures.  And what we do is pretty simple... we teach, our kids learn, and our parents and community members partner with us to make that all happen.

So I guided our teacher leaders back to the first question... why do we host BTS Night each year?  Does it help us accomplish our mission?  Do our parents walk away with the right knowledge to truly engage with their child's learning?  Do the families who attend really understand what school looks like and why it looks so different in so many ways from what they experienced?  Our teacher leaders emphatically agreed that BTS Night, in it's traditional format, was not the best vehicle to help us travel toward achieving our mission.  We agreed that there were some important bits of information that families receive from a traditional BTS Night approach, but that same information could be communicated in different ways, perhaps more efficiently, and may even be more effective in the long run.  For example, posting the best ways to communicate with a teacher on a teacher's website or sending home a refrigerator card rather than putting it on a powerpoint slide to show at BTS Night may give families information they need later in the year as the need arises.

It was at that moment that our leadership team began to get even more excited.  We all started talking at once discussing the possibilities of BTS Night from a non-traditional approach.  We agreed that, while we didn't have much time, it was best for us to create the alternative methods of communicating typical BTS Night information.  All teachers would need to buy into this change and prepare something quickly. The good news?  Most teachers had already communicated this information earlier in the year, so CHECK for most of us... for the rest, we would provide support.  We also agreed that our approach would mimic the way our teachers deliver instruction every day to students... we would have a hook and set the objective clearly, there would be a focus on stations work, and our sessions would be tied together by a common thread (our school improvement plan).  Our team also agreed to protect time to visit with or perhaps meet teachers for the first time.

From this early discussion, I stepped aside.  Our teacher leaders took the reigns and gathered their teams to begin planning.  Our literacy ROOT Team (In case you are wondering, ROOT stands for Resources and Opportunities for Outstanding Teaching) focused on reading levels and what a balanced literacy program looks like in our classrooms. Parents engaged in conversations with each other and teachers to discuss the implications of learning to read from a variety or texts and genres, to write for a variety of purposes, and to communicate ideas clearly.  Our math ROOT Team decided to highlight problem solving and critical thinking. Parents engaged in open-ended math problems (and struggled!) where they had to meet critical thinking criteria at a mastery level.  Our climate and safety team discussed issues unique to our building and shared thoughts and ideas about how we can address some of our trouble spots--the parking lot was a hot button item during this session.  And our social/emotional team engaged families in a conversation about values and character traits that we share between home and school.  The lists were identical in each session by the way, with honesty topping the list along with respect!

Our objective for the evening was to engage families in a conversation about school, all of the challenges and and from all of the angles that a school must face.  As I heard one parent exclaim as he was moving from one session to the next, "School is a complex place these days."  Yes, it is.  And we are glad to embrace the complexities and share in our students' success each day as we work together to prepare our students for their futures!  I often find myself telling teachers and staff, when Friday seems to drag on forever or when the load gets heavier than we thought it could, "This is hard work!  We knew that when we signed the contract.  But it is simply the most important work on the planet and important work should be hard!"

My next post will be a summary of survey results and feedback received from our participants.  I hope this all turned out for the best... it was hard.  It was challenging, and at the risk of being challenged by my friends at the Disney corporation for using the word, re-imagining anything is difficult.  Challenging the status quo requires risk.  Sometimes it pays off; sometimes we fail; but EVERYTIME we learn from the risks we take.  We will take the feedback and reflect... learn... and grow.  Can't wait to see how this all turns out.

Yours in learning,
D. Lann

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Re-imagining Back-to-School Night

Mark your calendars.. Back to School Night is September 27, from 6-8 PM right here at Robert E. Lee Elementary School!

That's only 1 week away from an adult-centered night where we will spend time talking together about the purpose of school in the 21st Century.

That's only 7 days away from an adult-centered night where we will spend time talking together about our shared goals and visions for this year and beyond.

That's only 168 hours away from an adult-centered night where we will spend time talking about how we can work together to prepare our students for their futures.

That's only 10,080 minutes away  from an adult-centered night where we will work together to re-imagine school!

Please plan to join us for this exciting evening on Sept. 27, 6-8 PM.  We will start in the cafeteria where we will vote for a PTA budget that supports the learning needs and enrichment opportunities for all of our children.  From there we will engage in a conversation about school goals, lead by the administrative team at RE Lee with the whole group.  Then, parents/guardians will break out into two more small group discussions designed and lead by our R.O.O.T. (Resources and Opportunities for Outstanding Teaching) leadership teams.  Parents/guardians will have choices here as there are four presentations from which to choose.  Between 7:30-8:00, our teachers will be available for face-to-face meetings.   They will be busy with the presentations prior to 7:30.

As you can see by the design of the evening, this is not your typical Back to School Night.  As you can also tell, the design for this event is adult-centered.  Students of course are welcome (especially older alums!) but some of the activities may not be suitable for younger children.  The typical information (procedures and expectations from classroom teachers) will be presented in other ways this year... flyers, brochures, websites, emails, etc.

This year, we wanted to provide an opportunity for families to help guide and shape our concept of school in the 21st Century... to re-imagine school!  I hope you will support us in this very different model for BTS Night by attending and participating in the discussions.  We have a lot to learn from each other, and only by working together can we ensure that we are indeed preparing our students for their future!

Yours in learning,
D. Lann, principal

Monday, September 5, 2016

Rooted in Excellence... watch us grow! Kicking off 2016-17

It's been quite a while since my last post, and I am sorry for that.  I really am... I find myself thinking the thoughts that I wish were in writing nearly every day, and well, the days just get long and busy, and before I know it, I'm falling sound asleep promising to blog again tomorrow.  This year, my resolution to you all is at least two posts per month!  No kidding... two... at least!  So, here's the first one in a while.  Enjoy!

I am fortunate and blessed to work in a school that dates back to 1952, and two of my favorite school days are grandparents' days (speaking of, K-2 lunch is Sept 12; 3-5 is on Sept. 13--letters/order forms went home to families last week) because so many generations attended school here.  "Can I walk down and see my old classroom?"  I always say yes, by the way!  Being a bit of a nostalgic person, I catch myself reflecting on my surroundings... getting misty-eyed over the history and tradition, the power of community, and the deep, deep roots that exist in this fabulous little school.  Roots that are strong and deep enough to not only hold us up, but to actually bind us together!  Roots that share common values and morals, but varying degrees of experiences and viewpoints, all of which make our school one of a kind!  So, how does all of that sappiness--pun absolutely intended, trees are sappy!--influence us today?  This year, Mrs. Kelley and I spent quite a bit of time talking with Ms. Gin and Ms. Dale about our school's past (you see, when renovations take place to the extent that they did this summer, you start to reminisce about the Old Place) and came to the conclusion that our school's deep roots are one of the most direct contributors to our tradition of success.  And along came a theme... Robert E. Lee Elementary... Rooted in Success...

Teachers, parents, administrators... every stakeholder who works with or supports a student at RE Lee is a Master Gardener. OUR kids are the evidence of OUR collective work to support them!  They are the end product, the flowers, fruits and healthy leaves on deeply rooted trees and bushes, each one different from the others but still from the same main trunk.  They are the result of tireless hours of gardening efforts from ALL OF YOU!  

  • You are the master gardeners who determine what our flowers, fruits and leaves should look like (unpacking the curriculum).  
  • You are the master gardeners who design the daily regimen of food, water, sunlight and soil that our little saplings need to grow the way we intend... of course, this is all research and evidence-based, no guess work here! (designing and delivering Tier I instruction).  
  • You are the master gardeners who measure your plants’ growth along the way and prune out the suckers that often detract from the plant’s successful development and adjust their daily intake of water, food and sunlight (assessment and progress monitoring).
  • When one of our samplings fails to thrive, perhaps as a result of too little or too much fertilizer, food, or water, or perhaps because of some invasive disease, you are the master gardeners who diagnose and treat the ailment with scientific precision (Tier II & III interventions, RtI).    
  • You are the master gardeners who take the nearly mature plants to show when the time is right, to show the exquisite growth, sometimes at record levels like a prize winning pumpkin or blue-ribbon sunflower (data celebrations).  
  • And of course, you are the master gardeners who collect the rewards from the judges at the fair who are there to evaluate your prize winning plants, fruits and flowers, and yes, sometimes the judging criteria is unclear or changes just before the competition, but once again this past year, you are the master gardeners who smile with pride as you see the accolades bestowed upon those winning plants, fruits, flowers, and trees (state assessment time!)

So, yes, master gardeners, we attained status as fully accredited according to state standards again last year.  That accomplishment is not easy to do.  Celebrate.  Smile.  Bask.  But remember, master gardeners never stop growing their prize-winning products, never stop analyzing the conditions and making adjustments, never stop researching ways to improve those products.  So… let’s get down to the work of our next growing season… Is the soil ready?  Does the greenhouse have a stable structure and working air controls to provide optimum growing conditions?  Are all of our resources ready for us to use, at our fingertips, and do we know how to use the new tools or deliver the next enhancement strategy so our plants grow to maximum capacity?  I know, I know… enough, Daryl! Sometimes even a great analogy runs it’s course.

Tomorrow, we will begin to sow our next crop of prize-winning students! One thing to keep in mind is that, like all gardens, our plants are annuals. They start over each season. Even though the seeds and saplings may come from the prize-winning plant the season before, there is no guarantee that our plants this year will thrive under the same conditions. We have to get to know our plants, we have to adjust our conditions to suit them best, and we have to make sure that we are working together to accomplish greatness again this year. Gardening is hard. It's easier with a team of folks all working together for the same purpose. I'm just glad I am a gardener at RE Lee where we are truly Rooted in Success!!

Yours in Learning,
Daryl Lann, principal