Poetry Cafe

Willowbrook is celebrating National Poetry Month! Several grade levels have already moved into a poetry writing unit. Teacher Jen Schmidt and Librarian April Eichmiller have created an interactive poetry display outside the library. Students are jotting down small poems and dropping them into pockets to share. Other students are reaching in and taking a poem to enjoy. This activity was inspired by the April 18 Poem in Your Pocket Day. #pocketpoem

Our school librarian is hosting the annual Poetry Cafe next week. Throughout the week, classrooms sign up to visit and read their poetry into a standing microphone. The library is transformed into a Beatnik club. Classes never know who might make a guest appearance.

According to author Edward Hirsch, “Poems are like messages in a bottle sent out with little hope of finding a recipient. Those of us who find and read poems become their unknown addresses”.

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National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics this week. I joined a few other D30 administrators and teacher leaders. It was intellectually stimulating and reinforced that our math pedagogy and curriculum are strong! My workshops and presentations included foundations of instructional rigor, teaching for social justice, parent-teacher partnership, formative assessment practices, instructional coaching, and planning for the professional development of teachers.

A theme that ran through many of the week’s presentations was the importance of providing students with rich math tasks and asking questions that deepen student thinking. As Linda Gojak (past president of NCTM) explained, good questions allow students to make sense of a math situation and construct their own conceptual understanding. Our teachers’ role has shifted to that of being a facilitator of learning rather than simply providing information and procedures that are focused on answers.

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Morning Greeting

Our teachers work very hard to cultivate safe and joyful classroom communities. It begins by setting expectations, norms, and routines at the start of the school year. Social-emotional skills are taught throughout the year and classroom meetings promote understanding and positive communication.

A great example of this was shared with me this week. The video below shows a new routine that one of our student teachers brought to first grade. It shows a new “classroom job” of the morning greeter. What a fantastic way to start your school day!

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Student Recognition Breakfast

The Illinois Principals Association – North Cook Region’s Annual Student Recognition Breakfast is one of my very favorite events of the year. Dr. Brown and I had the opportunity to each bring a 5th grade student to be recognized this morning. Students are nominated by the teaching staff for demonstrating responsibility, dedication to school… a positive person to know. As you can imagine, it is a challenge to select only one student each year. We have a building full of students who meet this criteria!

Elk Grove Village H.S. Principal Paul Kelly hosted a great event that included guest speaker, Jimmy Chamberlin. While Mr. Chamberlin is best known for being the drummer of the Smashing Pumpkins, he should be known for his work to support educators in Illinois. Since leaving the band, Mr. Chamberlin has served on school boards, taught music, and launched technology companies. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Columbia College-Chicago.

Mr. Chamberlin opened his talk by discussing his 2 biggest influences – his father and his 1st-grade teacher. His father taught him the importance of passion and hard work (he worked on the railroad). His teacher taught him “how to celebrate his uniqueness… and ignited a passion for life long learning”. She also taught him a means to hold himself accountable. Mr. Chamberlin went on to emphasize the importance of engaging children and celebrating their individual differences. After all, “It is the inconsistencies in our personality that define us and bring value to our culture”.

I felt pride in District 30 and our students. I believe we strive to advance our students’ academic, social-emotional, and artistic growth. I also felt pride in the larger education profession. I expected to recognize a deserving student this morning. I did not expect to receive inspiration from the drummer of one of my favorite teenage rock bands.

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Play and Social Thinking in Kindergarten

When our Kindergarten program shifted to full day, we had the opportunity to re-imagine the school day for our youngest students. Over the past 4 years, our teaching staff created a developmentally-appropriate program that meets the academic, social and emotional needs of students. Opportunities for structured and unstructured play were woven into the curriculum.

Our Kindergarten team presented at the Illinois ASCD Kindergarten Conference two years ago. It was a fantastic experience. Willowbrook staff are back at the conference this week to present on our implementation of a social thinking curriculum.

We have borrowed from the work of early childhood expert, Michelle Garcia Winner, and her study of Shared, Collaborative, Imaginative Play (SCIP). Kindergarten age children are entering into complex play that requires negotiation skills, communication, understanding shared goals, reading the intentions of others, etc. As you can imagine, these skills form the foundation for social learning and success in school.

Social thinking lessons are introduced via our daily specials block (P.E., music, art, library) and practiced within the classroom. All teachers and instructional assistants share a common language with the students. It begins with teaching the students that other people have thoughts and feelings. When people have different feelings than us, it is because they are thinking different thoughts than us. Later lessons involve following the group plan, thinking with your eyes, and whole-body listening. One of our favorite lessons is “expected” vs. “unexpected” behavior. The size of the problem lesson is delivered around this time of year. Sharing an imagination with others is the final lesson and most sophisticated level of interactive play.

Winner, M., Tarshis, N., Palmer, K., & Hendrix, R. (2016). We Thinkers! GPS. Santa Clara, CA: Think Social Publishing, Inc.

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Dancing through the decades

Last Friday, the Willowbrook students and staff celebrated 50 years as a school community. Each grade level was assigned a decade (e.g, 5th grade had the 1960s, 4th grade had the 1970s). Students explored the popular culture, technology, fashion, and Willowbrook history from that decade. Classroom doorways and hallways were decorated. There were classroom parties and an indoor parade.

The afternoon ended with a boisterous assembly. Each grade level shared a dance specific to their decade. Students joined the specials staff in a silly version of Willowbrook Jeopardy. Of course, we ended with our school song.

A great deal has changed over the years, but some things remain the same. Willowbrook continues to be a special place that honors childhood and celebrates learning. We have dedicated parents and passionate educators. We look ahead to our closing ceremony in May and plan to invite former staff and students for a simple homecoming.

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A Reading Life

When parents ask what they can do to support the teaching and learning at school, I think first of the importance of fostering a reading life. A passion for reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can instill in their child. We believe this is the foundation for all other forms of learning.

District 30 parents were invited to a presentation from international literacy expert, Ellin Keene, last night. She summarized the research base on reading development and provided common sense strategies for how to engage your child in reading at home.

As Ellin shared last night, parents can help most by enjoying books with their children. They do not need to teach them to read and write. Parents can also help by letting their children see them read… and write. Remember, nonfiction text counts!

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#LoveTeaching2019

I found myself reflecting on why I love working in the field of education this Valentine’s Day. Of course, it is rewarding to grow the next generation of confident and competent citizens. It provides me with purpose. As one of our Kindergarten students wrote, “Love is… helping other people”. And as our superintendent often says, education is the field that allows all the other professions to exist.

Sean McComb, 2014 National Teacher of the Year, launched #LoveTeaching Week a few years back. This national campaign was created by teachers to celebrate the joys of working in education. Despite some of the challenges facing public education, this remains a rewarding and important profession.

Long-term relationships with students and families are my favorite aspect of being an educator. As a building leader, I am able to be a part of student growth and witness family success stories. I was reminded of that fact in 2 simple, but profound ways this week. On Tuesday night, I was working at my desk when I heard a knock on the front door. A Willowbrook mother and her 2 children brought me a home-cooked meal. It was delicious… and so thoughtful. Yesterday, I received a Valentine over Twitter (photo below). You may never really know when or how you influence someone else’s life. That’s why I love teaching.

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Hello from Camp Echo

This week’s polar vortex made it feel like Mrs. Fetzer, Mr. Pablo, and I were working at Camp Echo (the Rebel Alliance’s settlement on the planet of Hoth). I can’t remember a time when we experienced 3 closed school days in a single week. While Mother Nature interrupted our instruction, it did provide the gift of unstructured time.

Similar to your family, the Carlson family calendar seems impossibly full at times. We are juggling 3 different basketball teams, homework, and two careers in public education. This week gave us an opportunity to play together, read for enjoyment, and spontaneous fun. I enjoyed the silly photos my wife shared from home. I hope you found some quality family time too.

We tried something new with teachers on Wednesday. As you are probably aware, we are trying to maximize our summer for Maple School’s construction. We want to avoid going into June as much as possible. With that in mind, the administration quickly pulled together a day of online professional development for our teaching staff this Wednesday. Teachers were given the choice of viewing various webinars around the topics of differentiated instruction, reading/writing rigor, and instructional technology practices. Teachers reflected on their learning and created “action plans”.

Our friends in the New Trier Township (and elsewhere) experimented with remote learning for students. Maybe you heard about this. The Illinois State Board of Education recently approved the use of “E-Learning Days” in place of make-up school days. Teaching staff provided students with electronic assignments and activities to complete at home during the school closures. Some students submitted evidence of their schoolwork via Seesaw, Schoology, or email. I wonder what our parent community would think of this. This may be something for our district to consider. What are your thoughts?

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Attendance Matters

The Illinois School Code defines a “chronic absence” as 10 percent or more of school days of the most recent academic school year, including absences with and without valid cause (Section 26-2a).

Consistent attendance at school is critical to the academic and social-emotional growth of your child.  Teachers work to provide continuity from day to day so lessons build upon sequential goals and objectives.  Daily efforts are made to facilitate positive transitions from home to school and to develop responsible work habits.  Children who are excessively absent from school are at a disadvantage.

During these cold winter months, it can be hard to get started in the morning. We ask that you remain committed to arriving at school on time. If we can be of any help, please feel free to contact me or your child’s teacher.

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