Cardboard Challenge to Benefit Blessings in a Backpack

May is a very busy time of the year.  Schools are “winding up” as the school calendar counts down.  We are running end of year events, and at the same time, planning for the coming school year (e.g., master schedule, class lists, teacher assignments, hiring).  Students are taking end of year assessments and bringing long-term projects to a close.  The students in 5th grade are probably the busiest.

Our 5th grade student, Elizabeth, took time this week to entertain the student body with incredible cardboard arcade games.  Her “cardboard challenge” was the result of a passion project to raise money for the Blessings in a Backpack charity.  Students had the option of making a small donation and playing her cardboard games on their way to lunch recess.  Her project embodied many of the qualities of what we have termed as #bewillowbrook – passion, play, purpose, and ingenuity.

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Do you have any educational podcasts that you would like to share?

Do you subscribe to any podcasts?  Have you considered this professional learning (and entertainment) tool?  There is a great app native to your iPhone or iPad.  Hint – it’s colored purple.  Here are a few education related podcasts that I have come across recently.  Maybe you have one to share.

    • NCTE – Writing Workshop in the Digital Age
    • #EdChat Radio.  Ten minute episodes.  Hosts scan the popular hashtag on Twitter for interesting discussion points, reaching out to the most influential Tweeters as well as movers and shakers in education for a lively discussion.
    • Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers.  A podcast where teachers can receive validation and an empathetic ear.  Topics range from keeping passion high to the lies teachers tell themselves to learning learning how to thrive in the classroom.
    • Free Teacher PD.  A look into the latest, greatest ideas in teaching to broaden your thinking and get those creative juices flowing.  Each week there’s a new guest leader from the world of education.

As an epilogue to Poetry Week, I thought I would share a fabulous collection of poetry on the mystery and meaning in life.  Here is a link to Krista Tippett’s Poetry Radio Project.

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A Contemplative Lunch with 5- and 6-year-olds

One of the fringe benefits of working in an elementary school is having lunch with the students.  As you may know, there is a great deal of research being done on mindfulness and the work place.  Science is showing that mindfulness or contemplative practices influences attention, mood, and productivity.  When I am feeling overwhelmed, 15-20 minutes of conversation with a group of Kindergarten students is just what I need to “get out of my head” and focus on the important things in life:

  • A kind note/joke that mom put in the lunchbox.
  • A silly story from morning recess.
  • Excitement over a new book.
  • A friend helping another friend open their yogurt.
  • A food item that triggers a warm story about grandma or dad.

Five and six-year-olds want to know how the world works.  They have many questions.  Their sense of wonder and developing language skills result in fantastic conversation stems.  It is a fun escape.  You need to try it sometime!

K Lunch

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Willie Comes Alive!

This morning was the debut of Willie the Wildcat – our very own mascot… in the fur!  Cleaning up from Lighted School House last night, Mr. Barker found an old dusty case behind some of his instruments.  When he pried the case open, he discovered some ancient papers (see below).

Mr. Barker and I tried the chant this morning at Flag Raising, but it didn’t work.  We quickly realized that we needed the voice and the spirit of the entire school community.  Everyone chanted, “Willowbrook! Willowbrook! Come on Wildcats! Hear us roar!!!”

It was then that Willie came alive and ran into our gymnasium.  He ran through a human bridge formed by our 5th grade students and appeared in front for us all to see.  We now have the power to summon him in the future.  Many thanks to our PTO for their contribution!

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Student Recognitions

We had 2 fun student recognition events this week.  On Wednesday, Sodexo held the 3rd annual Future Chef Contest at Maple School.  There were 3 finalists from Wescott and 5 finalists from Willowbrook competing.  Supt. Wegley, Principal Brown, and I judged the food entries on several factors including: Plate presentation, kid-friendly preparation, taste, originality, and healthy ingredients.

Willowbrook Chef Finalists and Supporters

Willowbrook Chef Finalists and Supporters

Our very own, Victoria Caputa, was the 1st place winner.  She offered a truly original “S’more Crepes”.  I was so proud of all the contestants.  This is such a fun event.


1st Place Winner

On Thursday, Willowbrook and Wescott were represented at the Illinois Principal Association’s North Cook Region Student Recognition Breakfast at the Metropolis Theater in Arlington Heights.  Each year, my professional association allows members to bring one student from the exiting grade level for recognition.  With help from the 4th and 5th grade teachers, I selected Nathan Kuncheria.  The keynote speaker was Ricardo Castro, Illinois Teacher of the Year.


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Kindergarten Conference Presentation

The talented Kindergarten Team and I presented at the statewide Pre-K & Kindergarten Conference last week.  The title of our session was “Transition to Full Day Kindergarten: A case study of developmentally appropriate practice”.  The experience caused us to reflect on how fortunate we are to work in a close-knit community with significant resources, inquisitive children, passionate teachers, and a supportive school board.  The transition to a full day Kindergarten has been a highly successful change initiative.  Our students are thriving.

IL ASCD PreK & K Conference

IL ASCD PreK & K Conference

Popular media has portrayed a false dichotomy between academic rigor and developmentally appropriate practice.  We believe it is less to do about “what” you are teaching and more about “how” you are delivering content.  Our presentation illustrated how our instructional strategies, differentiation, staff collaboration, and focus on play/integrated learning has created a rich experience for our youngest students.

I am so proud of our team and feel fortunate to work in such a wonderful school district.  With the full day program, we have lowered the stress level of our students and staff, increased the stamina of our students for academic engagement, and strengthened relationships.

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Battle of The Books!

Congratulations to the Willowbrook 4th and 5th graders who participated in this year’s Glenview Public Library’s Battle of the Books.  Go Wildcats!  The library had over 330 students participate this year.  Willowbrook sent 40 students.  That’s nearly half of our 4th and 5th grade!

I would like to recognize the following teams for a strong performance: Bedazzled Beauties, Book Owlettes, Darth Paper, Dolphin Artists, and Book Slayers.

I would like recognize our teams that earned a place on the 2017 honor roll.  These teams earned one of the top five scores of the season:  Cute Little Fluffy Bunnies Plus One, Fluffy Unicorn Readers, Solid Dot, Angels and Golden Readers.

Finally, special recognition goes to the Angels and Golden Readers.  These two teams earned PERFECT SCORES!  What an amazing showing for our school.

We are so proud of all the students who worked with their teams to read a list of 28 books and then came to the library to test their knowledge.  Thank you to Willowbrook Librarian Sue Sparks, Glenview Librarian Rachel Snyder, and the classroom teachers for their encouragements and support.  Of course, thank you to the parents for their time and support.  Our parents recognize the importance of a rich reading life.

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Exploring School Community Through Drama

What does it mean to be Willowbrook?  Who or what makes a community?  What does it look like, sound like, and feel like?  These are some of the essential questions that our students explored this week with our Artist in Residence.

With the financial support of the PTO, we hosted teaching artists from The Writers Theatre of Glencoe.  They worked with each individual class and guided the students through dramatic exercises and creative movement.  Their play was guided by this year’s school-wide theme of #bewillowbrook.

Kindergarten and 1st grade students created tableaus (3D pictures with their bodies) that represented the qualities of a safe and strong school.  At 2nd grade, students used creative movement to generate ideas for a class poem about Willowbrook School.  The teaching artists helped the students stretch out their ideas with sentence stems:

  • Willowbrook is…
  • 2nd grade is…
  • I am…
  • I am…
  • We are…

At 4th grade, students were led through a variety of ensemble exercises.  One of my favorites included the sharing of personal stories.  Students were challenged to share their stories and then let them go.  It is difficult to let someone else tell your story and act it out!

Once the 5th graders were warmed up, the teaching artists asked which school experiences shaped them?  They were also asked about their best days, worst days, and challenges they faced over the years.  With all of these individual moments, the students made statues of their feelings, smells, and sights.  This collage of individual moments represented BOTH a piece of their individual story and the collective story of OUR Willowbrook School.

The teaching artists appreciated how the classroom teachers jumped right into the dramatic exercises and played with the students.  The students were able to take risks and demonstrate vulnerability with their peers as they took on different aspects of an ensemble.  We all walked away from this experience reflecting on the impact that our feelings and memories have on the choices we make, because the choices you make build your identity and the identity of your community.

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Actions that impact energy

Dave Wilms, former Stevenson HS teacher and current energy consultant, visited our 4th grade for the third time this year.  He has been exploring the concepts of energy efficiency, conservation, and the impact on our environment.  What is the difference between energy conservation and energy efficiency?  I will give you a hint.  One has to do with behavioral changes and one has to do with technological advances.


These classroom visits were scheduled to augment a recent unit of study.  As you may have heard, we have been replacing our old science units and aligning our curriculum to the Next Generation Science Standards.  Here is a link to the 4th grade standards.  We are grateful for the leadership of Kery Obradovich, Math/Science Coordinator and Kristin Cioffi, Math/Science Coordinator.

The students explored common items and how much energy could be saved by recycling.  Did you know that it costs less to recycle than to pay for garbage removal?  Only a small amount of things need to go to the dump.  Most city waste is paper (27%).  The second biggest item is food (14%).  Yard trimmings (14%) is third.

Our students were able to “describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment”.  They were able to “generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans”.  Having observed the student discussion today, I am confident these students will grow up to solve the energy problems of today and tomorrow.

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Maple Student Visit

Wednesday offered a special opportunity for 7th grade students from Maple School to interact with our Kindergarten students.  Each year, we bring together the Maple child development students and our Kindergarten students.

The child development students assisted our Kindergarten classroom teachers with the reading workshop.  They led literacy games and activities.  Following the reading workshop, everyone came down to the gym for a performance of Pinocchio.  The afternoon showtime students performed the Glass Slipper.  These experiences help to make our school community feel smaller and more connected.

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