Physical Distancing

With our first week of e-Learning in the books, we now have some time to pause and reflect on our instructional delivery AND the state of our families. This spring break is very different for us teachers (and parents). Instead of visiting Grandpa in Palm Springs or taking the family to Disney World, we are practicing social distancing in our homes. We are turning inward and spending some playtime, downtime, and family time.

There have been a lot of funny memes and thoughtful articles spread around the internet recently. While I am trying my best to stay off social media or limit my media exposure in general, I have seen a few messages that bear repeating. Our country is taking extraordinary measures to “flatten the curve” of this virus. In order for this to work, we need to be vigilant in our social distancing. This morning, I heard a teacher refer to it as Physical Distancing. That seems to make a lot more sense for children. We do not have to be socially distant from each other, but we do need to be physically distant.

Finally, I would like to extend a sincere thank you to the bravery of our medical community and the first responders. I know we will hear stories of bravery in the coming weeks. Character counts!

I look forward to sharing a video montage of our e-Learning later this weekend. We will email it out to everyone in the same way that we have shared the morning announcements.

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Class Placement Input

This is the time of year when staff begins thinking about classroom placements for the coming school year. This is a very delicate process, which takes into account many factors in an effort to create the best possible learning environment for each child. This includes:

  • Gender balance 
  • Student academic strengths/weaknesses
  • Student learning styles 
  • Social dynamics 
  • Identified special needs 
  • Student/teacher match 
  • Class size 

The placement process is a team effort that is completed with great care and consideration. Classroom teachers work with special area teachers to review student needs and dynamics. The process requires significant time and collaboration.

You may want to share information about your child that may help us in this process. Each year children grow and change, as do relationship dynamics, so information that you may have shared in the past is not referred to during this year’s process. If you wish to provide input, it may include information related to your child’s learning style, social dynamics with other children, and/or academic strengths & weaknesses. 

We ask that you do not request a specific teacher for your child. Please do not make this request of your child’s current teacher. Such requests cannot be honored, as this opportunity is not available to all children and the staffing may change between now and the beginning of next year.

This input should be put in writing to your building principal no later than Monday, April 6. Information received after this date may not be considered.

We trust that you will rely on our professional judgment as we group the children with the idea of creating the best learning environment for everyone. Thank you for your continued cooperation and support.

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Practice Happiness

February and March can be stressful months in schools. It’s cold outside and indoor recess can make everyone feel a little crazy. Students and staff are fighting off sickness. Some teachers are juggling the demands of work and caring for their own sick children at home. The standardized testing season is suddenly upon us, etc.

On the flip side, this time of the school year can be seen in a very positive light. The students know the classroom routines and are demonstrating academic stamina. Many of our students are fully engaged in science (e.g., 4th grade renewal energy) or social studies (e.g., 3rd grade Chicago history) units of study. We just finished a terrific Spirit Week (the students were so invested). Our library is launching Book Madness in honor of the NCAA tournament, etc.

It’s all about choosing your attitude and how you will respond. Our brains are designed to notice threats or things that are not working. This builds stress in our bodies. We have to combat that by noticing all the tiny positive… or neutral things in our day. We need to practice positive thinking. 

Have you visited UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center website – Greater Good in Action: Science-Based Practices for a Meaningful Life? I recently discovered this web resource in a Family Service Center flier and made a connection to the Willowbrook teaching staff’s work on mindfulness + resilience. There is a collection of science‐based practices for integrating social‐emotional learning, mindfulness, and character education into classrooms and schools. There are also some pretty terrific practices for the home/family.

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Strength of heart, mind, and will

There are so many things to keep in mind when parenting. There is a reason why it is considered the most difficult job. With a seemingly infinite number of articles, books and sources of advice, it is easy to become overwhelmed. How do we make sense of the explosion of research, ideas, and TED Talks? How do we know what qualities or traits to focus on?

Since writing her bestseller, Angela Duckworth has come to expand her definition of grit to include perseverance + passion. I recently heard her interviewed on the Grow Kinder Podcast. She acknowledges the confusion associated with an overabundance of parenting advice. In response, she identifies 3 major competencies or capability groupings to focus on. The first group includes interpersonal capabilities like kindness and honesty. These are values that begin at home and strengthened by character education at school or at religious institutions. The second group includes intellectual capabilities like creativity and curiosity. The third capability is the strength of will. This includes traits such as grit, goal setting, and the delay of gratification.

In this same podcast interview, Angela Duckworth suggests parents think to themselves every day – How are my children developing the strength of heart, the strength of mind, and the strength of will? Also, we as parents and teachers need to work on helping children foster passion or a growing love for something.

These capabilities are being developed in the children of Willowbrook School. I see examples every single day. Our teachers are focused on the growth of the “whole child”. The partnership between parents and teachers will be on full display next week during P/T conferences. Angela Duckworth’s framework could be a useful tool for focusing these discussions.

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Preparing the Child for the Path

Our PTO brought a terrific speaker to their January general meeting – Dr. Renee Dominguez from the Family Service Center. You may have seen photos on the District Facebook page. The title of her talk was “Preparing the child for the path, not the path for the child: Raising resilient children in a highly-competitive, digitally-driven world”. She talked about overparenting, growth mindset, and the use of technology.

Dr. Dominguez referenced the Madeline Levine book “The Price of Privilege”. I highly recommend this title. The author reminds us of the importance of letting our children struggle. We live in a culture of immediate gratification and we have the tendency to shelter our children from feelings of discomfort, anxiety, and boredom. However, in our sincere effort to help our children, we are preventing them from developing the very social-emotional skills they will need for success later in life.

Growth mindset and the work of Carol Dweck & Jo Boaler are something we are very familiar with in District 30. Many of our teachers have studied their work and our Superintendent often references these concepts. As a parent, it is helpful to focus on process (i.e., effort) over product. We can talk to our children about basic neuroscience – there are no fixed traits. We are all life-long learners. Furthermore, we need to embrace failure and risk-taking. This is what leads to self-efficacy and future happiness. Dr. Dominguez recommended “The Whole-Brain Child” by Dan Siegel.

One of the most exciting resources that Dr. Dominguez shared was the Family Media Use Plan from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The Academy has a Media and Children Toolkit. You can find an online template that will quickly generate a custom media plan for your child that includes aspects such as screen-free zones, screen-free times, device curfews, good media manners, safety, sleep & exercise. I cannot wait to implement this in my home.

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Illinois 5Essentials Parent Survey

On behalf of the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois 5Essentials Survey will be administered online by UChicago Impact at the University of Chicago. The survey gathers data related to five indicators that can predict important student outcomes, including improved attendance and larger test score gains. These five indicators that affect and predict school success are:

  • Effective Leaders
  • Collaborative Teachers
  • Involved Families
  • Supportive Environments
  • Ambitious Instruction

Your participation in the parent portion of the survey will help us understand the conditions at Willowbrook School and guide improvement. Your identity and survey responses will be kept completely confidential and will never be connected to you or your child.

The Parent Survey Supplement will be conducted through February 14. To take the survey please visit https://survey.5-essentials.org/Illinois/ and select the appropriate survey to begin.

For more information about the Illinois 5Essentials Survey, or to view previous years’ Reports, please visit https://www.5-essentials.org/illinois. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact 5Essentials Client Services at 1-866-440-1874 or 5essentials@uchicago.edu.

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Collaboration vs. Collegiality

Collaboration is very different than collegiality. Do know the difference? We are really good at being collegial. We are respectful and careful with each others’ feelings. We share. However, this is very different than the messy and complicated work of collaboration.

What does collaboration look like in your school or your office? We launched our school year talking about this as a staff. Our teachers have been working hard on the implementation of new protocols and collaborative planning practices. Our work is directed by Board Goal #1: Increase District 30’s capacity to systemically collaborate within grade-level teams to execute the cycle of continuous instructional improvement. There is an update to the Board of Education scheduled for January 9.

District 30 has a vision of cohesive instruction. We want to get better at using formative assessment data to drive our instructional planning. However, we also recognize the importance of valuing teacher autonomy, and individual personality or passion. Drawing upon the seminal work of Richard DuFour, our teachers are asking the 4 big questions:

  1. What do we expect our students to learn?
  2. How will we know they are learning?
  3. How will we respond when they don’t learn?
  4. How will we respond if they already know it?

What does professional collaboration look like at Willowbrook and Wescott? Well, a team of teacher leaders completely reimagined our master schedules. As a result, each grade level now has an hour of common plan time every single day! Our district math coaches have been leading Professional Learning Team (PLT) meetings every Tuesday. English Language Arts meetings were added to Thursdays just this week.

Most of our PLT meetings begin with looking at a common data point (a.k.a., fresh data) – What are the common patterns or data trends that we see in our students? Can we sort our students into beginning, approaching, meeting, and exceeding standards? Next, our teachers discuss what guided instruction will look like for the coming week. What will the students be doing? What will the teachers be doing?

The results of these collaborative planning efforts have already borne fruit. Our grade-level teams are diving into the curriculum maps to add assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (and our draft report cards). Some grade-levels are working on inter-rater reliability or how they judge student work samples. Some teams have made changes to the pacing or sequence of instructional topics in response to trends found within the standardized assessment data (i.e., Illinois Assessment of Readiness, Measures of Academic Progress).

Teaching has become an increasingly complicated profession. Teachers require the support of teams. However, this professional collaboration requires our teacher teams to demonstrate a high level of vulnerability. It requires setting meeting norms. How will we handle conflict or differences of opinion? How will we come to a consensus? How will we keep the commitments we have made to each other? Our staff are doing an incredible job. They have met these expectations. The result – terrific things are happening for kids, and we are getting better at our craft.

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Attitude of Gratitude

I am using this holiday season to recommit myself to an attitude of gratitude. It’s easy to do when you work and live in a community like ours. We have so much to be thankful for at Willowbrook School. We are grateful for the hard-working, creative students. I love how these Wildcats come running into the school each morning at the 8:40 bell. Our students are passionate and curious. They are respectful and responsible.

We are grateful for our supportive parents. Parents routinely share their talents and time with the school. The PTO is inclusive and responsive. Our teachers and parents enjoy a strong partnership. We have a common goal. I witness formal and informal meetings every day – before school, on teacher planning breaks, over lunchtime.

We are grateful for our talented teachers. Willowbrook is a special place. We “honor childhood and foster intellectual, physical and social-emotional growth”. This does not happen by accident. We attract strong teachers, provide ongoing professional development and support. Leadership and decision-making are distributed across the organization. There is a culture of continuous improvement and a school board that models life long learning and (appropriate) risk-taking.

I wish all Wildcats a Happy Thanksgiving. Please take a moment this holiday season to reflect on all the positive aspects of your life. I know I will.

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Character Counts! Poster & Video Winners

We were very excited to participate in the annual Character Counts! in Glenview poster and video contests this fall. Willowbrook Wildcats joined other students from District 34, OLPH, and Wescott. There were 342 total poster entries and 59 total video entries this year. Barbara Littlefield of the Glenview Public Library coordinated the poster contest. Lynn Stiefel from the Village Manager’s Office coordinated the video contest.

Sophie from Mrs. Greenawalt’s class is the 2nd place winner in the grades 3-4 category. District 30 took all 3 spots in the video contest for grades 5-6. Zach & Atticus from Wescott took the top spot. Adriana, Claire, and Julia from Willowbrook came in 2nd place. Naomi from Willowbrook came in 3rd place. We played their videos at Friday Flag Raising.

Monetary prize awards are generously sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Glenview-Northbrook. Prize awards will be presented to the winners at the November 21, 2019 Village of Glenview Board of Trustees meeting.

Sophie (3-Greenawalt)
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Father’s Book Club

I would like to thank all the fathers who joined Dr. Brown and me for our Father’s Book Club. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss parenting and learn from each of them. Our two book club meetings were grounded in the new Michael Reichert book, “How To Raise A Boy: The Power of Connection To Build Good Men”.

Our boys receive so many confusing and frankly destructive messages from popular culture and media. It is important to remember that only connections or relationships will keep them safe. Parenting is less about outcomes than it is about relationships. The same could be said about teaching.

One of my biggest take-aways is the realization that boys will often “test” their parents and teachers. It is always the responsibility of the adult to repair or maintain the relationship. Dr. Reichert goes further by saying, “To help a boy develop his own internal self-regulation, unreasonable or inappropriate behaviors should be met with a relaxed limit offered by a connected caregiver. Being relaxed when confronted with bad behavior is a key to effective discipline” (p. 42).

We have an amazing community of caring and thoughtful parents in District 30. This book club was another great way of strengthening that community. I hope the participating fathers formed new connections and friendships. I hope we can continue the conversation. Parenting is a verb.

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