Posts Tagged Kent Elementary School

Looking Forward With Excitement; Looking Back With Pride

Walking on, looking back with pride.

Walking on, looking back with pride.

Pardon the delay of this post. It was originally written a week ago but the flu hit our family and it never got posted.

As I begin the next exciting journey of my career with the honour of being the principal of James Hill Elementary in the Langley School District, I have had many moments of excitement as well as many that have caused me to pause and reflect on my time at Kent.  Prior to the final week at Kent, I found myself looking back with a critical eye – looking for all the things I could have or should have done differently.  Maybe this was because I was handing my “stuff” over to the next principal, maybe it was because I was struggling with leaving a school and community I love, or maybe it was just me reflecting on how I need to continue to grow as an educator… but I think this caused a bit of a shadow over the many truly wonderful things I was privileged to be a part of at Kent.  After talking to a great friend and teacher at Kent, Stacey Garrioch, my sadness, nervousness, and minor regrets began to turn into happiness and pride.

I then made a list of the positive (major) moments, ideas, and changes that occurred during my time at Kent.  I have written about many of these in my blog before (linked below) but as I add closure to my journey at Kent, I wanted to describe the proud moments and changes that stick out to me and pay tribute to the efforts of the staff, students, and community of Kent Elementary and the Fraser-Cascade School District.  Please note that these changes were not my doing; these changes often arose from an individual or group on staff or in the community and I just helped to make the change a reality.

  1. Ending awards  This conversation began prior to my arrival at Kent but I was honoured to be part of the final decision to move away from student of the month and year-end awards. Rather than award a select few students for strengths in which we chose to be the most important, we decided to honour each child at one point during the year for the strengths and interests they brought to our school. Our year end ceremony moved from an awards ceremony, in which often only parents of award winners attended, to a grade 6 honouring ceremony in which our gym was packed as each child had family members there to support him/her.  Death of An Awards Ceremony and Rethinking Awards.
  2. Moving away from rewards and punishment  This is another conversation that was initiated prior to my arrival but I was proud to be part of its evolution.  We moved away from sticker charts and behaviour prizes to instead place emphasis on students doing the right thing… just because it is the right thing to do.  When negative behaviours arose we placed the focus on determining the lagging skills, putting supports in place to teach/coach the lagging skills, providing opportunities for restitution, and working to ensure their is a positive sense of belonging. In the past few months, the school has also created a team to implement self-regulation strategies into a few classrooms. My Issue With Rewards, Creating the Conditions: Student DisciplineThey Need Teaching – Not Punishment, and Movement Is Not A Reward.
  3. Focusing on student interests, strengths and passions  Too often we place all the emphasis on the deficits of our students and staff.  The previous principal of Kent, Roxanne Watson, helped to show me the powerful shift that occurs when we start with strengths.  One of the successful initiatives that we have had at Kent for the past 6 years is the Choices Program that provides the opportunity for teachers to teach in an area of their passion and for students to choose to learn in an area of interest or passion.  Kent has a tradition of strong athletics, music, Aboriginal culture with dedicated staff that support this each year. Honouring A Student’s Strength: The Story of Daniel and Giving Students Choices
  4. Putting a focus on outdoor play   It started with a group of teachers working together to create a beautiful garden in the back field.  Parents then built a sandbox.  We then built a hill!  All of these provide the students with so many more opportunities to be inquisitive and active in the outdoors. The Power of Outdoor Play: We Built A Hill.
  5. Making the school library (and the teacher-librarian) a priority  Kent School has shown me the impact a passionate teacher-librarian and well-designed library can have on literacy (not just skill but, more importantly, a love of stories and reading).  In addition to literacy as is traditionally defined, a teacher-librarian can be a leader in the areas of research, education technology, inquiry and professional learning.  The staff at Kent have also shown me that we do not need pizza parties, prizes, nor points to encourage kids to read. Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading.
  6. Fostering a partnership with our First Nation Communities  Although Kent School has a effective relationships with a number of the First Nation communities, the working relationship with Seabird Island is one that should be a model for others to follow. The Seabird Education committee consists of band leaders who are passionate about creating positive change and working to ensure all children get the best education possible.  The admin and (passionate) FN Support Worker met with the education committee four times a year (in addition to other less formal meetings) in which we discussed evidence and actions that could help the students.   The education committee supported and challenged Kent School in ways that created change that benefited not only First Nation students, but also all the students.  This was REAL collaboration with REAL trust in which there was a dynamic tension that allowed for intellectual collisions to help move us forward.  We have a long way to go to ensure more success of our Aboriginal students in BC but Seabird Island and Fraser-Cascade have made significant gains in this area.  Seabird Education Committee: Learning Together
  7. Increasing parent communication with technology  A key belief of mine is that in order to best communicate with families, we need to meet them where they are.  At Kent, we moved beyond the paper newsletter to include more frequent information (that can initiate 2-way dialogue) sent out in our blogs, Facebook Page, Twitter feed, Remind101 (SMS), Flickr, YouTube, etc to create a variety of ways to share the wonderful things that happen at the school. Using Tech To Meet Parents Where They Are, Parent Communication: To vs WITH, and Your School Needs a Facebook Page
  8. Shifting the focus away from grades  This is not as significant of a jump at an elementary school as it is at a high school; however, a focus for our school has been to put less emphasis on the grade and much more emphasis on growth minsdset with descriptive feedback, success criteria, and clear learning intentions. This has helped to create better evidence of learning, decrease anxiety, and increase confidence. 6 Big Ideas of Assessment Practices
  9. Continuing to make inclusion a priority  This was nothing new for Kent School as we just continued down the path that was set in motion long before I arrived.  I was always proud to see all students fully included with support throughout the day; not only does this help the child with special needs but it also has a huge impact on all students as they learn communication skills, empathy, care, and (most importantly) friendship. Modeling and Teaching Our Kids to Reach Out and Include
  10. Creating time within the day for teachers to meet and tinker with ideas  We often say that collaboration is important and that we want innovative practices in schools yet we often fail to provide the structures to make these a priority.  In the past, I have tried some extra preps for innovation (“FedEx Preps”) but this year, we placed time in the schedule for innovation and collaboration. FedEx Prep: Time For Innovation, FedEx Prep: A Reflection, and Creating Time for Teachers To Tinker With Ideas
  11. Providing opportunities for student leaders  Student leadership is part of the culture at Kent School.  Whether it is through buddies, supervision, help with decisions, or running activities to improve the culture of the school, the students worked hard to lead. I recall someone asking what our “leadership program” was and, although I am sure there are some great programs out there, I responded with “we had dedicated teachers that model and encourage it… they create the conditions for students to lead.”  When we moved to a “Play First Lunch”, our staff, along with the grade 6 students, made sure that the younger students were supported in the transition.
  12. Increasing opportunities for students and staff to connect with others  Encouraging and supporting the use of technology and social media to connect and learn from others had a significant impact on our school.  Although we did provide release time for staff to visit other schools, the technology provided the opportunity for staff to connect with and learn from other passionate educators around the world.  I am proud of the many ideas that were ‘stolen’ from others to benefit students at Kent. :-) How Social Media is Changing Education
  13. Continuing to foster community partnerships  Being in a small town in which relationships are key, the school has a lengthy tradition of community partnerships.  Here are just a few examples:  twice a week before school, retired community members come in and read aloud to children (one-on-one) in the packed library;  students regularly work with the Fraser Valley Regional Librarian to help support stories and literacy; the choir regularly travels to community halls and care homes and performs for others; the grade 6s reach out to the care homes to play games, read, and do crafts with elders; the Kent athletes participate in tournaments and playdays with nearby First Nation communities of Seabird and Sts’ailes; students also attend celebrations such as Sto:lo New Year at Seabird each year; the high school leadership students are regular helpers at a variety of events we host; students and staff from the Agassiz Centre for Education buddy up with Kent students and also partner in a number of “Senior-Teen Luncheons” at the Legion Hall to promote generational relationships and understanding; then at Christmas, the school invites the community supporters in for a huge turkey dinner in our gym.  One of the most memorable (and heart-wrenching) moments was when our community embraced Lilee-Jean and her family as we welcomed this beautiful 2 year old in to spend her first and only day at school.  These community partnerships help the students learn far beyond the school walls. The Most Beautiful Morning Spent Dancing in the Rain
  14. Embedding Aboriginal ways and culture  Some key staff members have worked hard to make sure that Aboriginal education and knowledge of First Nation language and culture moves beyond being a “field trip”; culture, language, history, and story-telling all occur across the curriculum and throughout the day.  The idea of honouring a child for the gifts he/she brings to us is just part of what is done at Kent.
  15. Showing pride in who we are  We worked hard to honour children for who they are. We challenged and supported students to grow and excel and also remember the strengths and interests in their lives that help to create their identity.  One of the most memorable activities I have been a part of was Identity Day in which each child in the school did a project on themselves.  The conversations and learning that resulted from Identity Day spilled over into days and months following the event and helped to create better understanding and more confident learners in the school. I will always remember a luncheon/honouring ceremony when a cousin (a young adult) of one of the students nervously and emotionally spoke up; she said, “I went to Kent 8 years earlier… and struggled… and I am so proud to see my cousin go through Kent school and be PROUD of who she is”. Identity Day: Pride in Who We Are

I am so thankful for all the opportunities that were offered to me during my time at Kent School and the Fraser-Cascade School District.  Writing this post has shown me the awesome power of having a blog as I was able to look back and read about the learning moments that occurred during my journey.

As I finish the chapter that is my journey at Kent, I look back at powerful learning, close relationships and wonderful memories.  As I start my new chapter at James Hill, I look forward with excitement for the opportunity to create new learning, new relationships, and new memories. I have only been at James Hill a few times now and I am already learning so much from the staff. One of the greatest aspects of education is that, although we may have similar goals, things are done differently with a variety of perspectives in different communities and contexts.   Each school community has its own ‘ecosystem’ and these new perspectives and relationships inspire me and help me grow that much more.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of this community and write a completely new chapter of my life full of moments that will make me proud to be a principal and educator at James Hill.  Hopefully I can add a few small pieces to the already strong cultures and traditions at our school.

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My girls and I “looking forward” with excitement!

Thank you so much to the communities of Kent and James Hill along with the districts of Fraser-Cascade and Langley.

If you are interested, here is the video I created for the community of Kent School that was shown on the last day of school.

 

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Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading

A gr. 6 student reads aloud to gr. 2 students during lunch.

This is the second part of a series on motivation called “Creating the Conditions”. For part one on student discipline, click here.

No charts. No stickers. No pizza parties. No awards. No certificates…. and LOTS of reading!

Following the post by Joe Bower, “Daddy, I Want a Book Buck!“, Joe and William Chamberlain encouraged me to share the story of how Kent School has created a positive culture of reading without the use of prizes and incentives programs.  It is difficult to sum up in a few paragraphs but I will make my best attempt to remember the MANY things that the staff and community of Kent School have done to create the conditions for students to motivate themselves to learn through an interest in reading.

In the past year there have been many moments that have made me step back and take note. Here are a few:

  • A student running into me as I walked down the hall because he was so into reading the book he just checked out from the library.
  • Our teacher-librarian shouting out to a primary student passing by, “Leila, I found some more books on pixies for you” and the student responding, “Yay, I will come see them in the morning!”.
  • A student, who less than 2 years ago was a non-reader, coming into the library and asking for any more Dav Pilkey books.
  • Seeing and being part of the seemingly endless activities in our “For the Love of Books” month. Please check out our teacher-librarian’s blog posts on “For the Love of Books”.
  • Getting the results back from our student survey that asked: do you like to read? 97% said  YES
  • Seeing a teacher holding up a huge poster board that had all the book and author recommendations from students from the previous year.
  • Seeing EVERY teacher in the school reading aloud to their students on a consistent basis.
  • Being part of numerous author and illustrator visits.
  • Checking out all the teacher “Hot Picks” books on display outside their doors.
  • Hearing teachers ask powerful questions about reading; also observing teachers trying new things (to our school – like the Daily 5/CAFE) to help teach and encourage reading.
  • Have a teacher-librarian working virtually side by side with our community-librarian to promote reading.
  • Seeing a line up of kids so excited to read with our volunteer community readers on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before school.
  • Seeing students so excited to write letters to their favourite authors
  • Observing our grade 6 lunch leaders reading aloud to both groups and individual students.
  • Being part of a school-wide “Read-In” in which all our students packed into the library (in shifts) to read.
  • Watching children aged 4 and under take out books in an area of their interest as part of our Family Library Card program.
  • Walking into a classroom and seeing kids sprawled everywhere – in every corner and even in cupboards – choosing a spot in which they LOVE to read.
  • Discussing the idea of our kindergarten students walking to our senior care facilities to have our elders read to them.
  • Seeing students so excited about our book swap and book shops in our library.
  • Observing our teacher-librarian read to our Strong-Start (birth to age 5) students each Friday afternoon.
  • Hearing our staff state how important the teacher-librarian position is to our school and using their voice to ensure that we maintain this in our budget. (although I need very little nudging to keep this as a key part of our budget ;-)).
  • Having our previous librarian choose to go back to the classroom to share her passion with reading with her students AND state that she felt the position should go to our current teacher-librarian who was completing the TL program and was excited for the opportunity.
  • Seeing our buddy readers march from the intermediate end down to the primary end each Friday.
  • Having a student so excited to say to me, “Mr. Wejr – I finally got a book on girls’ hockey!”
  • Knowing that every teacher is committed to DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time – and students are not forced to read books in which they have no interest.  Not enjoying the book? Head on down to the library and get a different one.
  • Watching groups of teachers and staff members meet and discuss on their own time how we need to work to create a culture of reading at our school.

I am sure there are so many things and conversations that occur in our classrooms and libararies that I do not see but the items in the list above have significant impact on our kids’ interest in books. The best part of all of this is that I have had very little to do with leading this culture of reading.  Teachers have used their professional autonomy to meet during professional development time (and beyond) to discuss and implement many ideas to help our students become more engaged readers. One group of teachers used Steven Layne’s book, Igniting a Passion For Reading, to fuel professional dialogue around doing just what the title has stated; these conversations have spread to the staff room, staff meetings and into other classrooms.  At our school, I am so proud to share that we have large number of teachers who are truly excited about reading – they model this in how they teach and what they do every day.  We also strongly believe in the role of the teacher-librarian in our school; our library is slowly converting into a learning commons area and is definitely the literacy and learning hub of our school.

Although this post is primarily to share the story of how a staff can create a positive culture of reading without the use of prizes and other extrinsic rewards, there are embedded stories about the importance of professional autonomy, tapping into the strengths of teachers, teacher leadership, student motivation, staff collaboration, and the power of a school library with a passionate teacher-librarian.

I often hear that students with little home support NEED extra incentives to get them to read.  The staff of Kent school have worked hard to prove this theory incorrect. It is not about pizza parties, book bucks, and stickers – it is about creating the conditions for students to develop a love of reading.

Thank you to the students and staff of Kent School for all they have taught me about the power of promoting a real love of books. Images are a powerful way of sharing stories; please check out the video below for images of what we do to encourage reading at our school (I realize here is a spelling mistake as I could not fit the title in :-)).

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Identity Day: Pride In Who We Are

Identity_Day_Logo

As an educator, I have had so many moments that have taken my breath away; working with kids, we often find ourselves truly inspired.  On Thursday, April 14th, 2011, I had the privilege of being inspired by every student at our school in a way that I can honestly say, had me leave the school that evening with a memory of the best day I have ever had as an educator.

The idea of Identity Day started at Forest Green School in Stony Plain, Alberta and was shared with the world by George Couros.  I presented  this idea to our staff in 2010 and they agreed that they would be willing to take a risk for kids and give the idea a try.  Part of our school goal is to have our students “develop their unique talents and interests” so this idea felt like it was made for our school.

The idea behind Identity Day is that students create a project on themselves; there is no criteria, no grades, and no set topics.  Students were encouraged to design a demonstration, video, powerpoint,  slideshow, poster, display or anything that would help the audience to learn something about them. (see Prezi on Identity Day here).  The idea was that each student and staff member would present in a way that shared a talent or interest about themselves.

My project on "My Family"

My project on the "Wejr Family"

Students were given about a month to prepare their projects along with some class time.  Families were encouraged to be involved and those students that struggled were given extra support from older students and staff members.  After presenting to each class, I was not sure how the day would go (whenever I bring a different idea/event to the school, I get nervous about the result); there was not a whole lot of interest a few weeks before… but when students began to bring in their projects a few days prior, we could feel a huge buzz in the school.  Kids were bringing in Lego, pictures, books, posters, stuffed animals, sports memorabilia and equipment – the students were beaming with pride about their projects.

The day of our fair was nothing short of brilliant.  Each class hosted the other classes at one point during the day.  Kids were so excited to teach

A Grade 5 student's project on "Lego"

A Grade 5 student's project on "Lego"

others about what was important to them!  We had students bring in all sorts of animals (including a goat!) as well as so many things that were meaningful to the students and staff.  They presented and taught others everything from “stuffies” to “animals” to “sports teams” as well as things more personal like “things I like” to “my family”.

It is so difficult to put the day in words; you had to be in our school to truly get a sense of the pride and excitement in our students.  Our school was full of parents, community members and students all genuinely interested in each other.  I learned more about our students in one day than I do in an entire year!

Because of Identity Day, I can now approach any child in the school and have a conversation about something in which they are interested.  In the past week, I have stopped students to ask about dance, Lego, their family, and various sports.  What better way to have students proud of who they are than to have them showcase…. who they are!

Every child has a gift; it is up to us, as educators, to create the environment that encourages the student to develop this strength and passion.  Identity Day is one example of the many things we are trying to do at Kent School to help children find their gifts.  If you have any questions on bringing Identity Day to your school, please comment or email me at chriswejr@gmail.com or on Twitter @mrwejr.

I want to thank the students, families and staff of Kent Elementary for their outstanding efforts.  Also, thank you to George and his school for the idea and the encouragement to bring something truly amazing  and inspiring to our school.

Here is a video that includes a few of the projects from Kent’s version of Identity Day:

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Kent Elementary – 10 Picture Tour

Inspired by Cale Birk’s (@birklearns) post encouraging bloggers to post 10 photos of their school, I went around my school Friday and snapped some pics.  Here is a quick tour of images (actually 12 pictures) from Kent Elementary School in Agassiz, BC.  Enjoy!

Our school sign currently promoting "Identity Day" next week!  Thanks @gcouros for the idea!

Our school sign currently promoting "Identity Day" next week! Thanks @gcouros for the idea!

The back field of our school.  Our interemediate playground is just around the corner.  We have a beautiful view of Mt. Cheam.

The back field of our school with beautiful Mt. Cheam towering over us. Our intermediate playground is just around the corner.

We do not give out awards at our school.  We recognize and honour each student for their strengths.  Next year, I am hoping to line our walls with posters created by students that showcase their strengths and passions.

We do not give out awards at our school. We recognize and honour each student for their strengths. Next year, I am hoping to line our walls with posters created by students that showcase their strengths and passions.

We are extremely proud of our gardent - designed, created, and sustained by staff and students. ("borrowed" this pic from another season)

We are extremely proud of our garden - designed, created, and sustained by staff and students. What a brilliant place to learn! ("borrowed" this pic from another season)

Our housepost at the front of our school, designed and created by local Sto:lo artist (Chehalis) Rocky Larock.

Our housepost at the front of our school, designed and created by artist Don Froese who currently resides in Seabird.

One of our classrooms is packed most lunch hours with knitters.  Our knitting club began after a huge interest was observed in our CHOICES program.

One of our classrooms is packed most lunch hours with knitters. Our knitting club began after a huge interest was observed in our CHOICES program.

Our model of a racing canoe that hangs in one of our clasrooms.  Designed by local Chehalis artist, Rocky Larock, it reads "Mekw' wat i:xel" which is Halq'emeylem for "pulling together" - a motto at our school.

Our model of a racing canoe that hangs in one of our clasrooms. Designed by local Chehalis artist, Rocky Larock, it reads "Mekw' wat i:xel" which is Halq'emeylem for "pulling together" - a motto at our school.

Intramurals/House Games are huge at our school.  Run by a few teachers, they go Monday-Thursday at lunch throughout the year for our intermediate students.  The boys each get recognized at some point with a little photoshop poster - just for fun!

Intramurals/House Games are huge at our school. Run by a few teachers, they occur Monday-Thursday at lunch throughout the year for our intermediate students. The participants each get recognized with a little photoshop poster - just for fun!

Our librarian helps to promote literacy by asking students from each division to recommend their favourite books for others to enjoy.

Our librarian helps to promote literacy by asking students from each division to recommend their favourite books for others to enjoy.

To increase collaboration, teachers have added more tables and couches.  This teacher has removed the desks.

To increase collaboration, teachers have added more tables and couches. This teacher has removed the desks.

A board in a classroom that highlights all the strengths and passions of each student.  Posters, crests, and images like these are found in most classrooms at Kent School.

A board in a classroom that highlights all the strengths and passions of each student. Posters, crests, and images like these are found in most classrooms at Kent School.

Oops - how did this one get in there?  A poster that is prominent in our hallway - GO CANUCKS GO!

Oops - how did this one get in there? A poster that is prominent in our hallway - GO CANUCKS GO!

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Inspired By A 7 Year-Old – UPDATED

***Updated at bottom of post!

We all look to be inspired – we search videos, read books, attend conferences, and meet with people who inspire us.  Many times, we need not look further than our own playground;  to make a difference in the world, we just need to listen to our children as it is they who can inspire us in a way like no other.

Mackenzie, Grade 2

Mackenzie Frumen, age 7

In November, I was out supervising in the primary end when I felt a tug on the back of my coat.  I turned around and saw a bright eyed seven year-old, Mackenzie Frumen, who stated, “Mr. Wejr, I want to cut my hair and give it to someone.  I also want to raise money.”  I was a bit blown away from this comment so I said the usual, “Wow! Tell me more…”

Mackenzie, a grade 2 student at our school, went on to tell me how she had been watching TV and was inspired by a girl who was fighting cancer and needed to wear a wig.  The two of us spoke for a few more minutes and we decided that Mackenzie, her mother, and I should come up with a plan on how the school could help.  Mackenzie’s mom told me of the relationship the family had with the Cuccione Family and that Mackenzie wanted to donate $500 to the Michael Cuccione Foundation that raises money to one day help to eradicate childhood cancer. She also invites others to join her in donating her long hair (although the 2 initiatives are linked, Mackenzie’s plan is to donate her hair regardless of the amount of money she raises).

It is amazing how inspiring kids can be.  Mackenzie is one example of a child that wants to make a difference in the world.  Please read the message from Mackenzie, watch her interview and support her and the Michael Cuccione Foundation.

Hi.  My name is Mackenzie and I am in Grade 2 at Kent Elementary in Agassiz.  I have been growing out my hair for the past two years and now it’s time to get 10 inches cut off to be made into a wig for a child who has lost their hair from a disease.  My goal is to raise $500 to be donated to the Michael Cuccione Foundation before I get my hair cut.  Please help me in my fundraising efforts to MAKE A DIFFERENCE!  Donations can be made through the school or through the charity’s website (click here).  (If donating through the website please note in the comment section on the bottom of the donation page that it is for my fundraiser so that we can keep track of donations.)  Thank you for your support!

Please leave a message for Mackenzie in the comment box below.  Thank you for reading and supporting her in this great cause!

***UPDATE

We wanted to thank everyone who supported Mackenzie by donating and/or encouraging her through her fundraiser.  The hair cut was a little scary for her but she’s now loving her new short do!  We all learned how generous people can be and that one little person CAN make a difference.  Mackenzie is honoured to have her story placed for awhile on the Michael Cuccione Foundation’s website!

We are VERY proud to announce that Mackenzie raised a whopping $2,485!!!  Wow!  Way beyond her goal and our expectations!

Thanks again for all your support!

Steve, Linda, and Mackenzie Frumen

Way to go Mackenzie!  We are all very proud of you!

Way to go Mackenzie! We are all very proud of you!

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