Monday, April 20, 2020

A Beautiful Message

Since school campuses have closed here in Florida, teachers have had a tough time connecting with kids and trying to make them feel like there is some sense of normalcy. Our learning curve has been steep but, after a few weeks of e-learning, we've worked out many of the bugs. One thing that both teachers and students are sad about is not being able to be in the same place for school. So much of education is personal interaction and soft skills that make our days a joy. We can capture some of that in video chats with the kids but so much is lost due to the separation. That is why you hear teachers say that Shelter at Home is tough on them. We want to see our kids but we know that we cannot. For the safety of everyone, we must shelter in place.

Our Lely Elementary Reading Coach, Karen Pelletier, came up with a way for us to communicate our love for our kids directly to them. She wrote a poem, had each teacher take a picture with one word from the poem, and she put all of the photos together to give a strong message to our kids. They loved it! This is one of the many ways we are showing our kids how much we love and miss them.

We miss our Lely Lions,
that we used to see each day.
So we thought we'd get together,
so you could see us say:
We still love you and we miss you,
and together we'll get through.
But we have to say
school's not the same
without our Lely crew.
We remember all the kindness,
that you showed in many ways.
The smiles and love you gave us,
still warm our hearts each day.
Even though we're in different places,
and each inside our home,
we'll get through this together,
you will never be alone.

Your Lely family

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Out of Our Comfort Zone

One of the things that we teachers take for granted is that we will see our kids every day. The routine of the school day almost guarantees it. We teach our students, we learn from them, and we share our lives. School is a comfortable environment where everyone can flourish and grow as learners and as people.

The Coronavirus Pandemic has changed everything. We are no longer in school with our kids, we don't have the classroom environment to foster, and we don't have the comfort of knowing that we will see our kids everyday. This has been a difficult transition for everyone. It is a massive undertaking to conduct school over the Internet. I would venture to guess that only a very few schools were ready to make a seamless transition to online learning. Those schools probably had a large online component to their school days anyway. Most schools probably did not, and so the learning curve for teachers and students was massive and is ongoing.

In our district, we got notice that we would be transitioning to online learning and had about a week to prepare. We had to learn the online platform, Canvas. Now, we had switched from Angel to Canvas this year but most teachers were still just tinkering with it, not really delving in. We all thought that we would have plenty of time to learn the new platform. Well, not so much.

In a week, we took a course on how to use Canvas, we had a few teachers who were trained as "power users" and we relied on them to help with questions we might have. Teams of teachers collaborated and did troubleshooting about the platform and about how to best conduct online classes. It was a crash course on virtual learning.

Some teachers felt more comfortable with online tools and some did not feel comfortable at all, so the learning curve varied among our staff. We all had to learn about the components of the new platform, incorporate videoconferencing into our weekly plans, and figure out the best ways to communicate with our students and our colleagues. It was a herculean task.

We are just finishing our second week of teacher-directed online learning and so far, things seem to be going pretty well. There are still many teachers with a lot of questions and that is to be expected. But every single teacher has taken on the challenge to bring a first-class education to their kids even though it all has to be done online. Our teachers are not making excuses; they are accepting the challenge and moving forward.

This is wayyyyy out of many teachers' comfort zones. But our teachers know that the learning lies in the space of the uncomfortable. It is the same for the kids. For many teachers, they have to teach the kids how to use the tool before the kids can engage in the class and assignments. But they are doing it. They are rising to the occasion. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and together, we are succeeding.

Everyone in our district, top to bottom, is contributing. Our food services team has set up distribution points for kids to get their breakfasts and lunches. Our ELL staff has been on the phone talking to parents and kids about the best ways to approach the classes. Our teachers have worked tirelessly to prepare the best virtual lessons they can. Our administration has been flexible and supportive during this time.

One of the good things to come of this time is that when we do eventually return to the classroom, we will have learned so many new ways to reach kids. We can extend our classes beyond the four walls of the classrooms. We can incorporate more online learning in our regular classes. Many of the accommodations we have made to reach kids now will come in handy when school returns. The tools we are using, the conferencing apps, and the avenues of communication that are effective will still be effective later, when kids are back in class. It's like every teacher has expanded his or her repertoire of tools to use to educate our kids. This is one of the huge benefits of this tragedy. We are better teachers because we had to learn more, be creative, think outside the box, and make it work. It is uncomfortable to be sure. But this whole situation has made us better teachers.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Opening Minds with 3D Printing

We have been on a year-long mission to load our media center with MakerSpace tools and technology. While that may seem non-traditional to some, I think it is the future of libraries. We get validation for our decisions everyday when we see the kids' faces and hear their questions.

The other day, we had a 3D print going and a few kids passed by. Immediately, they asked, "What is that?" As I started explaining what it is and what it does, their eyes popped open. "You mean, you printed a dog? What else can you print?" I told them they could print anything that they could imagine and design. They were quiet for a bit. "You mean, anything?" they asked. "Yep!" I told them. 

The whole idea behind the media center here at Lely Elementary is to get kids to think, imagine, and wonder about ideas they may not have thought of yet. We want to open their minds, through their reading, through our conversations, and through the technology that we are bringing into the library. Once their minds open up to new possibilities, they can think about things they had never considered before. Since every person thinks differently, we are accessing some thinking that no one has ever done before. Each child had genius, and when every child sees that there are many more possibilities than they had thought, then those kiddos can apply their genius differently than they did before. This is the mission of our media center at Lely Elementary. 

We will continue to load our media center with ways for kids to think and imagine. The more robust our environment is, the more kids' minds can be opened and the more of their genius we can access. This symbiotic relationship between materials and thinking will snowball into some amazing successes for us this year.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Butterflies of Hope

Every elementary school tries to work with community institutions as much as possible to give the kiddos some new experiences. We are incredibly fortunate to be right next door to the South Regional Collier County Public Library. They have a beautiful building, huge collection, and plethora of special programs. One program that we were able to see was the "Butterflies of Hope" event. This was open to all of our fifth graders and we took advantage of the opportunity.

We rotated kids through the program, taking one fifth grade class after another. The kids heard a talk from two volunteers who spearheaded the program. They spoke to the kids about the symbolism of butterflies and how they related to the ghettos of Europe during the prelude to WWII. Kids also heard about how butterflies can represent kindness and that we all try to be a bit kinder to each other, making the world a better place.

The kids were very insightful during the discussion with the presenters and after the presentation, the kids walked through the gallery of butterfly art. Some of the art was created by professional artists and some was created by middle school artists from Oak Ridge Middle School. The kiddos were soaking in the meaning as well as the beauty.

Any time we have the opportunity to give kids these experiences, we take them. Experiential learning sticks. While the students may not remember everything that they do in the course of a school day, they will definitely remember the "Butterflies of Hope" project and the impact that it had on them. We are already lining up other opportunities to collaborate with the public library next door. It is an amazing resource and we plan to take full advantage of it.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Reading Champions!

Yesterday, our principal, Tammy Brown, and I got a chance to visit a fourth grade classroom. With trophy in hand, we celebrated Mrs. Hall's class for having the greatest percentage of kids who achieved their reading goals for the second quarter of school. They will keep the traveling trophy in their room all quarter and will get a banner to hang permanently to remind them of their accomplishment. They worked especially hard this quarter because another class won the trophy for the first quarter of the year and they were determined to work a bit harder this quarter.

Our competition is a fun aspect of our school environment. It is a positive, teamwork-oriented slice of life here at Lely Elementary because everyone has to help everyone in order to achieve our goals. We are having a rollicking good time this year and little things like the reading goals competition lend a little fun to our school year.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Podcast: Learning at Lely - Episode 5

In this episode, two teachers who are new to Lely Elementary, talk about the challenges of being a first year teacher, or being a first year teacher in a new school, and the ebbs and flows of the first semester. They talk philosophy and learning and have many valuable observations to share.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Math and Muffins

Another day, another triumph at Lely Elementary School. Earlier this year, we had an amazing standing-room-only turnout for our morning program, Books and Bagels. A couple of weeks ago, we put on another morning program, Math and Muffins. Now, early morning programs are not all that well-attended in general, especially considering the work responsibilities of our students' parents. We thought that the Books and Bagels success may just be a fluke. Well, we could not have been more wrong.

The media center was packed again. Parents streamed into the library with their kiddos, grabbed a bite to eat, and then settled in for some math pointers from Patti Jones-Ragusa, our math coach. For the second time in two months, we had a standing-room-only crowd in the media center, finding out ways to help their kids and support our school. It was awesome to witness.

I've talked a lot about a rejuvenated spirit here at Lely Elementary this year. When we have successes like Math and Muffins, it breeds success. Suddenly, we expect more. When we expect more, we work a little harder to meet those expectations. The hard work pays off by snowballing into a series of positive events.

We have higher aspirations now. We know we can turn out a crowd for our morning programs and can elicit parent participation at school events. As our community involvement increases, so too will our achievement. We cannot wait to see what successes lie ahead for our kids. We know that our positive attitude toward our school is contagious. This is an awesome year to be at Lely Elementary.