Life Lessons

It’s been a hard week.   Our school community learned that our principal and the founder of our school was leaving.  On Wednesday afternoon, district leaders told our staff that our principal, David Elliott had decided to take a leave and would not be returning this year or next year.    He was gone.       For Good.        Period.   

Alicia and I both knew that that the principal we knew  wouldn’t leave Queen Anne Elementary without saying goodbye to his staff and to his students. So on Thursday, all of us came to school with heavy hearts wondering how we would tell our  kids that Mr. Elliott, the principal that knew them all by name, that did lunch duty because he wanted to have real conversations with kids, and that led our school with passion and courage was not coming back.  I had only been in my classroom for about 5 minutes when one of my students and her mom walked in with this-  

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Obviously, our district  had sent our parents a letter the night before and  it was clear that most of them were in shock too.  It seemed that very few in our community believed that our leader, the man who built our school would leave without a word.  And since I had already been touched by one child’s act of kindness, I wanted to make sure our community knew that these were the students we were growing. So I sent out a tweet with the hashtag  #ThisIsTheSchoolThatDavidBuilt and despite the typo, people saw it and responded.  Soon our families were connecting in person and on social media. I now had less than 10 minutes before the first bell and my head was spinning with questions, “What would I tell my students? Would they be feeling the same sadness?  Would they also  be wondering if our school was going to change?  Who would be in the lunchroom and who would be leading our school?”  And then I did what I do on many days when I’m unsure of my next steps. I walked down the hall to look at our pillars that greet every visitor that comes to our school. These pillars are the foundational statements that guide our teaching and learning.I snapped a picture and sent this tweet out to the world tweaking my hashtag so that it read #DavidBuiltThisSchool.

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Our school is a special place.  Queen Anne Elementary is an option school in the Seattle Public School District.  Our families choose to come here.  QAE opened it’s doors just 6 years ago and was originally envisioned as a school where, simply put,  children would learn how to learn.  I was not here in its first year but joined the staff in year two.  Alicia joined in year three.  It was that year we started using iPads in our classrooms, sharing a rolling cart between classrooms.  And it was the next year in a staff meeting when David,our principal, said that he would like to pilot a 1to1 program in our school.  Alicia and I raised our hands.  And with David’s strong encouragement, that  December our first grade team had iPads in the hands of all our kids and the learning for both us and them was transformational.  Now all of our kids, kindergarten through 5th grade have 1to1 devices. But these devices are just tools to show the world what is at the heart of our teaching and learning, our pillars:     

  • We are self-directed learners
  • We encourage each other to think critically and learn more
  • We are concerned, confident and compassionate citizens of the world
  • We learn everywhere, we learn together
  • We are creative

And when things get hard at our school, students and teachers, come back to these pillars and know that they can and do hold us up.  All of us held classroom meetings so that students could talk and ask questions about Mr. Elliott’s sudden departure.  In first grade, I think both Alicia and I would say that our kids really helped us remain strong.

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 And in fifth grade, the students who came here when Queen Anne Elementary  was brand new worked through their feelings together.   There were lots of tears and many memories shared.   Life Lessons.  

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And while we were inside the building, our community was outside working to make sure that the school that David built was going to move forward. I know it will. The work here is to important. Of course, there is much more to this story.  And the end hasn’t been written yet. Our principal isn’t perfect. In a letter to our community he admitted that he did make a mistake by not completing teacher evaluations last year.  But we are standing with him anyway because he is more than his mistakes. So thanks to all of you who are fighting the fight to get our principal back. It’s my belief his work is not finished.   And thanks to all of you who are fighting in schools everywhere for the chance to teach kids more than just academics, It is the life lessons, good and bad, that matter most.

–Molly

  

Small Steps

The day before school, I was ready. Ready to jump into the adventure that is first grade. And then we went on strike. When we eventually went back to school, I felt scrambled and rushed, it was the middle of September already!  Today was our tenth day of school and suddenly I realized what was going on in my classroom.  I was rushed and my students knew it, so they were rushing to keep up with me.  I knew what I needed to do.  I needed to slow way  down and start taking small, focused steps.

Last week I tried a math lesson with iPads. It was not a complicated lesson at all, in fact the concept of making tens with unifix cubes was developmentally right on for my first graders. My plan was for students to create an Educreation project with three different slides showing the different groups of ten they created. In my haste, I forgot got that my new first graders had limited experience with Educreations in Kindergarten. Needless to say, the task was much too complicated for most of my students. This project had way too many steps and tools to navigate for students to begin with.  So I took a step (or two) back. And began again.

Today after my mini lesson in word work, students had the choice to graph sight words from a weekly sight word list, make words with letter tiles or write words using white boards. Whatever they chose, they needed to show their learn through pictures and words. I asked students to use the app Pic Collage to take three pictures and write a sentence about their word work. This was a simple task, however, it reinforced many skills my students will need for larger, more complicated projects. Students practiced taking clear photos, selecting a font, typing in a text box and saving their work to the photo library. Pic Collage is a very simple to app to navigate and every year it is one of my students favorite apps to use.

 I realized today that what I had forgotten in my  rush to develop independent first graders was  the small steps we take daily  to lay the foundation for the future work ahead.  And the need to start with simple tools that help are students be successful from the beginning.  That’s how we grow the independent, self directed learners that leave our classrooms in June. My goal going forward  is to slow down and remember to keep taking small, focused steps forward. We shouldn’t be in a hurry.

–Alicia

Student documenting the words they built to use in a Pic Collage
Student documenting the words they built
Graphing sight words from a favorite book
Graphing sight words from a favorite book