Six Tips for Growing Good Readers

I wrote following article for Forest of the Rain Productions this week (www.forestoftheraineducation.weebly.com)

In 2000, the National Reading Panel issued a report that served as the basis for reading instruction across the United States.  Many NCLB initiatives used the Panel’s report to justify a very narrow definition of reading instruction.  Their findings suggested that the best approaches to reading incorporate:

  • Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness
  • Systematic phonics instruction
  • Methods to improve fluency
  • Ways to enhance comprehension

Fourteen years later, as we prepare for the Common Core era, schools are hopefully shifting their focus to a broader and more comprehensive view of reading instruction.  Something significant has been lost with recent school reform efforts.  The creation of formulaic reading programs has moved schools away from fostering a lovefor learning in their students.

Before you can interest a child in unlocking the sounds associated with letters, you must at least light a candle of interest.  If you want children to become fluent readers who also comprehend, then show them how reading unlocks the world.  Schools wishing to elevate student success should encourage parents and teachers to consider the following tips on growing good readers:

1.      Talk to them

Vocabulary development and reading skills are linked processes.  The more you read, the better your vocabulary, the more you engage in conversation, the better you’ll be able to read.  Busy parents must take the time to talk with their children about a range of subjects.  Teachers must give their students opportunities to talk with their classmates.  While we can all appreciate the value of peace and quiet, our children will become better readers from ample opportunities to talk.

2.      Read to them

Oral comprehension supports the growth of independent reading skills.  Parents of young children should be reading to them every night.  Teachers should build read-alouds and books on tape into their daily instruction.  Older students also benefit from listening to others read.  You can turn the table on them by having students record themselves for others to listen to.

3.      Model good reading

Children tend to value what the adults in their lives show enthusiasm for.  If you want your child to be a reader, you have to model it.  Talk to them about the books you are reading.  Share your excitement about your favorite genre.  Have a quiet reading time in your home or classroom where everyone is reading at the same time.  Involve the extended family in sharing their reading interests.  Invite guest readers to the classroom to share their love for reading.

4.      Ask Questions

Questioning is the starting point for reading comprehension.  Good readers are constantly asking questions as they read.  Young readers should be encouraged to share what they are thinking as they are reading.  Reinforce questioning before, during, and after reading.  As children improve their questioning skills, raise the level from explicit to implicit questioning.

5.      Take them places

Background knowledge is vital for growing good readers.  Every trip a parent takes their child on, no matter how long or short, should involve literacy moments.  Trips to the store, to the park, or to the gas station can all provide teachable moments for parents.  Point out signs, letters, and numbers as you travel.  Have your child help you with the grocery list.  They can “read” it to you as you shop.  Children need to see the connection between reading and the real world.  The more background knowledge a child has, the better prepared they’ll be when the demands of reading get harder.

6.      Go to the library

You can never expose a child to too many books.  Our public libraries are tremendous resources for parents and teachers.  Many have very liberal policies when it comes to checking books out.  Your local library probably sponsors a summer reading program and many offer homework help for school-aged children.  In hard economic times, public libraries offer parents affordable and often free resources for growing young readers.

Good readers become great readers through a process that is part art and part science.  While phonemic awareness and phonics should be components of good reading instruction, we must remember to build a love for reading in our students.  A love for reading blooms in students who are exposed to a variety of literature using methods that actively engage them.

Let’s think of it this way:  the stem, leaf, roots, and flower are the phonics/phonemics of reading, the love for reading comes from the soil, sun, and water we supply.  If we provide the best of both for our students, they will surely become lifelong readers.

Growing Sustainable Teacher Leadership

One of the biggest challenges principals have today is hiring, growing, and sustaining teacher leaders.  In his article for Phi Delta Kappan titled, Beginning Teacher Induction: What the Data Tell Us, Richard Ingersoll discusses teacher attrition.  He noted that, “…40% and 50% of new teachers leave within the first five years of entry into teaching.”  That statistic alone should give principals pause to reflect on their hiring practices, induction efforts, and school culture.  Teacher leadership is difficult to foster when teachers are fleeing the profession.

What can principals do to ensure that the teachers they hire are successful for years to come?  Principals must develop a comprehensive and inclusive approach to growing sustainable teacher leadership in their buildings.  If principals adopt consistent practices in four key areas:  hiring; induction/support; observation/evaluation; and professional development, they can improve teacher retention and focus their efforts on growing teacher leadership.

Hiring

Principals will tell you that growing sustainable leadership begins with the hiring process. Hire a poor candidate and you will spend a long time undoing your error.  Hire a great candidate and you can stand back with pride as they excel.  Simple enough, but how can you increase your chances of hiring a great teacher?  A few simple practices can dramatically increase the odds of hiring the next teacher of the year candidate:

▪ Hire by committee- Let your teachers help select their next colleague.  This immediately improves your new employee’s chances of being successful because their peers will be invested in their future.  New teachers who have colleagues looking out for them will find it hard to fail.

▪ Ask questions that are based on your school’s values- The questions don’t have to be lengthy, but they should be the same for every candidate to ensure fairness. The interview committee should get a sense of whether the candidate will fit in with the school’s culture.  Develop questions that evoke the responses you want (e.g. Give us an example of how you have collaborated with other teachers to meet the needs of your students).

▪ Call references- It is surprising how many principals skip this basic step.  Even if you already know who you want to hire, take the time to call their references.  It may take a little time, but it could save you from hiring the wrong person.

▪ Avoid hiring from desperation- Principals often end up advertising positions and interviewing at the last minute.  An unexpected retirement, a family crisis, and suddenly you are desperate to fill an opening.  This is the worst position to be in.  It’s like buying a car when yours has to be towed onto the lot.  Be patient.  Hire a long-term sub if you have to, but don’t hire someone just to check it off your “to do” list.

In her 2013 article, Teachers Hiring Teachers, Mary Clement noted that involving teachers in the hiring process strengthens teacher leadership.  She also found that when teachers are included in the selection process, schools are more likely to “make good matches.”

Induction/Support

​Once you have your new hire, you need to provide the support to get them off on the right foot.  It can be a very helpless feeling to walk into a building and not know who your resources are.  Planning for the induction and support process shows new employees they are valued and that you recognize their needs are different.

In their 2012 Teacher Induction Discussion Guide, The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) provides suggestions for the scope and structure of teacher induction programs.  They suggest that comprehensive teacher induction programs include the following:

▪ multi-year support for new teachers for at least two years;
▪ high-quality mentoring utilizing carefully selected and well-prepared mentors;
▪ regularly scheduled common planning time with other teachers;
▪ ongoing professional development; and
▪ standards-based evaluation of new teachers throughout the process.

As we all know, relationships are key to the achievement of our students.  They are also the key to the success of our teachers.  The success of new teachers is highly dependent on the relationships they have with their colleagues, support personnel, and their principal.  Principals can strongly influence the progress of new teachers just by being available to them.  Schools that grow skilled teachers do so through comprehensive and highly supportive methods.  When teachers feel they are part of something bigger than themselves, they rise to the occasion and grow exponentially in their skills.

Observation/Evaluation

​The observation and evaluation process is a critical component in growing sustainable teacher leadership.  Principals who focus on using teacher observation and evaluation to improve instruction will have more success than those who use it as a punitive tool.  When observation and evaluation conferences include honest conversations about student performance, they are much more likely to lead to teacher growth.

​Charlotte Danielson is recognized as a leader in the teacher observation and evaluation field.  Many districts have adopted her approach when developing teacher and principal evaluation models.  Her Framework for Teaching: Evaluation Instrument synthesizes her previous work and responds to the instructional implications of the Common Core State Standards.  Danielson’s framework addresses four domains essential to the teacher observation and rating process:

1. Planning and Preparation
2. Classroom Environment
3. Instruction
4. Professional Responsibilities

Danielson’s framework is comprehensive and targets the skills and knowledge that teachers are expected to master.  Her framework is based on empirical studies that connectspecific teacher behaviors to student achievement.  Teachers are unlikely to feel threatened if observation and evaluation discussions are centered on student achievement.  In order to grow sustainable leadership in schools, teachers and principals must work collaboratively in the observation and evaluation process.

Professional Development

The state of professional development in education is rapidly changing.  Professional development models that rely heavily on the expertise of outside facilitators are passé.  Just like principals expect teachers to provide instruction to meet the needs of all learners, they mustprovide the same for the developmental needs of their teachers.  Professional development should be job-embedded and inclusive of the needs of individual teachers.

In 2012, the Annenberg Innovation Lab released a report titled, Designing with Teachers:  Participatory Approaches to Professional Development in Education.  The group that collaborated on the report included researchers, teachers, and school administrators from a variety of schools and states.  The group was seeking to construct a framework for participatory professional development.  They found that there are four core values associated with participatory PD:

1. Participation, not indoctrination- collective intelligence, everyone (teachers included) has a role in PD.
2. Exploration, not prescription- teachers have a say in the scope of PD which should be individualized for their content area.
3. Contextualization, no abstraction- PD is practical, meaningful, and immediately useful.
4. Iteration, not repetition- PD is evaluated as an iterative process and the selection of PD comes from the examination of data.​

Modern principals must be innovative in all aspects of their work.  Innovation in professional development is a necessity.  Thoughtfully designed professional development can sustain teachers throughout their career.  Principals who know the strengths of their staff and design PD that is specific to their needs create learning environments that are healthy for teachers and students.

It’s About School Culture

Ultimately, teacher retention and development are products of school culture.  A culture that values the contributions of everyone is able to thrive even when typical levels of teacher turnover occur.  Principals who hire effectively, support new teachers, foster the observation process, and provide innovative PD greatly increase the likelihood that teachers will remain in, and contribute to, the profession.

Teachers want to make a difference.  They want to be the best they can.  If schools thoughtfully support their professional needs, anything is possible.  The belief system in a school that values teacher retention and leadership is the same value system that will support student learning and growth.  That creates the ultimate win/win opportunity for schools.

This article, written by Christopher Wooleyhand, was published in the September/October 2014 issue of Principal magazine. Copyright 2014 National Association of Elementary School Principals. All Rights Reserved.

Meet Chris Shriver-Edcamp Baltimore Co-founder

cshriver

Edcamp Baltimore (@EdcampBmore) will be held Saturday, September 27th on the campus of Johns Hopkins University.  Co-founder, Chris Shriver (@ccshriver) sat down with #mdeschat to discuss her passion for technology, teaching, and the edcamp movement.  Chris will guest host #mdeschat on Twitter this Thursday, September 18th, 8PM EST.

You serve as a Digital Learning Specialist at Garrison Forrest School.  What are the roles and responsibilities of your position?

As a Digital Learning Specialist, I work directly with students and faculty in the lower division of my school.  My main responsibility is teaching a class called Imagineering (a hands-on STEM class with a focus on building and problem solving) in grades PK-5.  I also work with teachers to help implement technology in their classrooms.  We are a Google Apps for Education school with a 1 to 1 program in grades 4-12, so we have many opportunities for collaboration and curriculum enhancement using digital tools.  I also often help with faculty training during our in-house professional development days.

How has technology changed since you began your career?

This is a tough one to answer, at least succinctly.  My teaching career has had two phases, one before children and one after.  The first phase ended in 1996 with the birth of my oldest daughter.  At that time, I was teaching English to non-native speakers at Virginia Commonwealth University and the world of edtech for me consisted of not much more than word processing and email, all of which was accomplished in a lab, students and teachers alike.

When I re-entered the classroom (at my current school) in 2006, I found myself at a 1 to 1 school where every teacher was assigned a personal computer (a big change from 1996!).  There was a lot to learn, but fortunately, I consider myself a life-long learner.  After a few years as an assistant teacher, I became the Digital Learning Specialist for the Lower School.  I was fortunate to have a classroom that was technology-rich (I was in a Mac lab with an interactive whiteboard, and we were piloting the classroom use of iOS devices in our younger elementary grades).  However, as I look back even these short 4 years, I realize a lot has changed.

In 2010, I taught technology in isolation in a lab.  Students came to me, and we learned tools for the sake of learning the tool.  Sometimes, what we did in the lab was an extension of what was happening in the classroom, but that was often not the case.  Two years ago, we decided to close the lab (we needed additional classroom space) and move my work with the students into the homerooms.  This allowed the projects to be directly tied to what the students were doing in class.

We were successful because now my class time with students deals very minimally with websites and tech tools.  That is part of what happens now in the homerooms (with my support as needed).  My role has been re-imagined once again as the STEM teacher, and with it, I have a new classroom.  I teach a class primarily focused on building and creating with our hands, aided and enhanced by technology when it is the best tool for the task.  When we do have computer time, rather than websites and software, we often find ourselves learning programming.  I would say the biggest change in how we as a school view technology is the realization that we cannot simply teach our students to be consumers; we must also teach them to create.

You are a co-founder and member of the organizing committee for Edcamp Baltimore (September 27th at JHU).  How did you get involved with edcamps?

I met Shannon Montague (@montysays) in January 2012 at a Photoshop workshop at Calvert School.  We recognized one another from Twitter.  Coincidentally, she and I had plans to both attend EduCon in Philadelphia a few days later.  Although we didn’t really spend our time together at the conference, we both came away with similar experiences.  As you may know, attending EduCon is three days of meeting and connecting with the Who’s Who of Twitter.  There, both Shannon and I heard a lot about edcamps (most of the current Foundation board was in attendance).

A few months later, we found ourselves having coffee at the Starbucks in Pikesville discussing the steps necessary for putting together an edcamp for Baltimore (Shannon is a master organizer).  The excitement of what we had heard about at EduCon was contagious, and we knew we wanted to bring it to Baltimore. November 10, 2012 was the first Edcamp Baltimore.

What do you think it is about edcamps that appeals to so many educators?

Edcamps put educators first.  We become the students, so our needs come before that of our schools or districts. We have a voice in what we want to learn.  This is so exciting because I think educators enjoy learning; after all, we have decided to devote our careers to being in the classroom.  So when we find ourselves surrounded by others like us, dedicated, passionate teachers who voluntarily give up a Saturday to learn, the feeling is pure joy.

What would you tell someone who has never been to an edcamp to encourage their attendance?

I think the biggest hurdle for most is the idea of giving up part of the weekend.  However, every edcamp I have attended has brought me into contact with some of the most amazing educators I have ever met.  I truly believe the decision to attend an edcamp will be a decision no educator will regret.   For anyone who is in need of refueling (often the reason we are reluctant to give up the weekend), edcamps are the opportunity to rediscover the joys that brought you into the classroom.  You will leave with far more than the day you donate.

What are you looking forward to most about Edcamp Baltimore this year?

I am looking forward to the people!  This has been a year of unbelievable excitement and anticipation for Edcamp Baltimore.  In the first two years, we had to do a lot of selling of the event.  This year, our loyal attendees have done all the heavy lifting.  They have tweeted and contacted colleagues, and the response has been tremendous.  We are in a very vibrant community, full of exciting innovation, and I am really looking forward to learning from and connecting with all of these dedicated educators.

A BIG thank you to Chris for sharing her knowledge and passion!

Five Thoughts on Student Engagement

Teachers naturally want their students to be engaged in the instruction they provide.  They want their students to be personally absorbed in the learning process.  The “how” of engagement can be challenging, even for experienced teachers.  Planning for active student engagement requires meticulous preparation and thought.  Most of all, it requires that teachers truly know each and every one of their students.

Teachers who know the strengths and needs of their students use that knowledge to raise the potential of their success.  They put their students in learning situations where the rewards are high and the risks of failure are low.  They don’t try to manipulate the end result, but they narrow the number of potential outcomes.

Here are five thoughts on how teachers can increase student engagement:

1. Have them teach each other.

See how high the level of focus goes when students are told that they will be teaching a new concept to their classmates.  It’s not about the fear factor, but students certainly become more engaged in classrooms that include opportunities for them to teach each other.  Of course, it has to be genuine, not contrived.  While this approach may take more time, it leads to greater retention of the material and deeper understanding of the concepts.

2Assign authentic tasks with meaningful final projects.

Students are quickly motivated when their learning is related to topics they are passionate about.  In turn, passionate teachers can easily motivate their students by selecting lessons that focus on real-life problems and issues.  The final projects associated with problem-based learning should be meaningful.  The simplest question teachers should ask before determining the focus of an investigation is, “Who will we share what we’ve learned with and how will we do it?”

3. Promote working together.

While it may be hard to know what careers we are preparing students for, we can assume that collaboration will be a key skill for their success.  Students need training in how to work with others.  It is not a natural talent.  Consistent structures and practices lead to collaboration that flows and seems natural.  Teachers can begin with highly controlled practices and, as students assume more independence, they can exercise a gradual release of responsibility.

4. Incorporate technology.

The modern teacher has many choices when it comes to using technology as a teaching tool.  Teachers must become comfortable with learning about technology alongside their students.  Blogging, file sharing, digital media, digital citizenship, PBL, Genius Hour, maker movement, curation and many more terms have made their way into the current educational lexicon.  Start investigating the newest technology.  If you don’t, you can bet your students will.

5Get students moving.

Students should be sitting as little as possible during the school day.  If your students aren’t moving every fifteen minutes, they probably aren’t learning as much as you want them to.  Brain-based research has clearly linked the role of movement in learning.  Where does the blood pool when you’re sitting for long stretches of time?  You can bet it’s not in the brain.  Movement breaks and physical activity re-awaken the brain’s synapses and make students available for new learning.  So, get moving!

Top Five Reasons to Attend an Edcamp

Edcamp Baltimore will be held at Johns Hopkins University-Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy on Saturday, September 27th.  Edcamps are cropping up all over the United States as viable alternatives to traditional education conferences.

What is an edcamp?  While you can find many answers with a quick internet search, you have to attend one to truly understand their value.  Here are my top five reasons for attending an edcamp.  Are there any that you would add?

1.     For Educators, By Educators

Edcamps are conferences developed by educators for educators.  Have you ever attended a conference and found that the content was lacking?  Edcamps reduce the chances of that happening.  Edcamp attendees tend to have common interests around the best teaching and learning practices.  You’ll get tips that you can use immediately back at your school.

2.     Agenda Created by the Attendees

The agenda for an edcamp is created on the spot.  There are no pre-planned programs and usually no keynote speakers.  Edcamp sessions are proposed by those who attend.  You can propose a session on a topic that you would like to learn more about and see if anyone in attendance has expertise in that area.  You can also propose a session on a topic that you would like to lead.

3.     They’re Free, But You Can Buy Lunch and Cool t-shirts

Nothing beats free!  You can spend an entire day with little or no cost to your bank account.  Most edcamps offer lunch, if you need it, and who doesn’t want a cool edcamp t-shirt to show off to their colleagues!

4.     You’ll Grow Your Personal Learning Network

As strong as our colleagues may be, educators can only benefit from connecting with those outside their usual travels.  Edcamps can be springboards for professional growth.  Through social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) we can find the creative teaching ideas that flow from a highly motivated group of learners.  Many edcamp participants backchannel their learning by tweeting out ideas and resources using the edcamp’s hashtag (#edcampbmore).  If you can’t attend an edcamp, find a hashtag to follow!

5.     The Model Easily Translates to School-based PD

The edcamp model is quickly becoming a professional development alternative that can be used at the school level.  Many schools are running their own versions of edcamps to promote the value of learning from each other.  Teachers enjoy and benefit professionally when they learn from their peers.  Our schools are full of teachers who want to contribute to the success of their schools.  Edcamps give them that opportunity.

Giving Students Our B.E.S.T.

Every day is a gift with a child, no matter what problems you have.

-Carol Ann Duffy

Monday is the first day for students in our district.  How excited they must be!  Anticipation and hope well up in the hearts of children and parents on the eve of a new school year.  New clothes, new shoes, and fresh supplies make for a restless night of sleep.  Our families send their best to our schools and they deserve our best in return.  Giving our students the best means:

Being a safe place for children to learn, grow, and challenge themselves.

Establishing routines and expectations that promote active learning.

Showing a passion for learning that is contagious and enduring.

Taking the time to know students on a personal level; their likes, dislikes, fears, and strengths.

Great teachers and school leaders know that children learn best when they feel a connection to their school, their teacher, and their classmates.  These values are not found in state standards or in textbooks, but they are equally, if not more important.

Let’s make sure that we give our teachers the freedom to establish welcoming classrooms that value the individuality of every child.  Before we turn our focus to collecting data, let’s show students that we care deeply about the unique and amazing individuals they are.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

“Renewal requires opening yourself up to new ways of thinking and feeling”

-Deborah Day

Our teachers return to school next week.  They’ll spend the week preparing their rooms, getting to know new colleagues, and participating in many staff development opportunities.  Of course, they will be most excited to get ready for and meet their new students.  One of the greatest parts of working in education is the sense of renewal that comes with the start of the school year.  The excitement is palpable as custodians clean, teachers put names on desks, and grade level teams begin planning for instruction.

I am sure that other professions experience feelings of renewal, but in teaching we get that opportunity every year.  No matter how challenging the previous year was, we begin the new school year with high hopes, aspirations, and dreams.  As Deborah Day notes above, renewal only requires that we open ourselves up to new ways of thinking and feeling.  What an awesome notion!  All we have to do is consider the possibilities.

Once the possibilities are considered, human nature takes over and we have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves.  If we were disorganized, we can become organized.  If we lacked energy, we can become more energetic.  If we were an average teacher, we can do better or even become great!  August and September are the times to consciously decide what the year will be like and then work for it.

Our students deserve teachers who re-commit themselves to their profession at the start of the school year.  Thankfully, I see teachers who do this with grace and consistency every year.  They welcome their new students with open and accepting arms, provide structure and support, and take them to places they have never been before.  They build independent learners who are self-sufficient in the pursuit of knowledge.

Let’s salute and celebrate the teachers who come back with a rejuvenated energy for the profession they love.  They are the ones who will make a difference in the lives of our students.  They are the ones who remind us of the value of renewal in teaching.

Redefining the Narrative: African American Students Find their Path to College

There is an excellent article in the Washington Post today written by Emma Brown (Traversing two D.C.s, from Dunbar High to Georgetown University).  It highlights the experiences of two former Dunbar (D.C.) High School graduates and former class valedictorians.  The article is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the challenges that African American students face when they venture into the world of higher education.

Johnathan Carrington and Sharnita James want a chance to excel in life.  They grew up in neighborhoods and went to schools that provided the best education possible.  It wasn’t enough.  College was a wake-up call for Johnathan and Sharnita who shared the challenges they faced in transitioning to Georgetown University and the University of Delaware, respectively.

The inspiring aspect of their stories is that, despite the odds, they are succeeding in college (Sharnita graduated) and have bright futures ahead of them.  Their stories remind us that minority students can write their own personal life narrative.  They can define who they are despite how society might see them.

What can educators learn from their stories?  Urban students shouldn’t have to make the higher education journey alone.  As strong-willed as they both seem, Sharnita and Johnathan shouldn’t have to maneuver the complex environment of college unaided.  Georgetown University recognizes that and seems to have supports in place.

There were two important quotes in Brown’s story that stuck with me:

“My mind-set was, no matter what, I’m going to graduate.” (Sharnita James)

“I realized I have to take initiative in some things. I have to make Georgetown cater to me. I have to find my path.” (Johnathan Carrington)

Such wisdom from growing young minds!  How can we NOT support students when they demonstrate an unfailing desire to succeed?  Dunbar High School must be incredibly proud of their former valedictorians.  Maybe one day Johnathan and Sharnita’s success stories will be the norm, rather than the exception.  One can hope.

Retreating to the Chesapeake Bay

“A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest- but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move.”

Richard Louv
Last Child in the Woods

I had the pleasure of spending three days last week on a principals’ retreat sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  We gathered at Somers Cove Marina in Crisfield, Maryland for introductions and orientation prior to boarding a CBF vessel for Tangier Island, Virginia.  Our three days were filled with exploration, discovery, and hands-on learning; the kind of teaching and learning that all children and adults should be exposed to.

The CBF principals’ program promotes using environmental education to boost academic achievement and get students involved in improving their community.  It offers participants a chance to network with other principals, to share ideas, and to learn from each other in a truly unique setting.

We canoed, scraped for soft crabs, set out and pulled in crab pots, visited the Tangier Combined School, fished, progged (beach combed) and ate local fare.  Maryland elementary, middle, and high school principals from Harford, Anne Arundel and Montgomery County participated.  It was obvious that each shared a passion for being outdoors and, most importantly, for involving their students and teachers in learning that promotes the value of environmental education.

One of the outcomes of the experience is that the participants develop an environmental education action plan.  Each principal creates a plan to pay their learning forward.  This aspect of the principals’ retreat has led to many schools in Maryland expanding environmental education opportunities for students.  Several of the principals are spreading the word to their districts on the benefits of getting their students outside.

Why does any of this matter?  It matters because we are raising a generation of students who spend little to no time in the outdoors.  While research supports the benefits of environmental education on learning, our motivation should be simpler.  We need to get our children outside because it’s good for them.  It makes them well-rounded individuals.  It makes all of us better people.  Don’t let this generation miss out on the value of knowing the woods or lying in a field listening to the wind and looking at the clouds.

Summer Renewal

Summer offers educators the chance to, as Stephen Covey taught us, sharpen the saw.  Covey touted the need for balance in our physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual lives.  When all four dimensions are balanced, the result is personal and professional synergy.  The sum of synergistic living is always greater than its parts.  When all four dimensions are attended to, everything falls into place.

The modern educator can easily be overwhelmed by the challenges of teaching in the 21st century.  If we don’t take the time to renew ourselves on a personal and professional level, we won’t be effective in supporting the growth of our students.  The greatest gift of being an educator is that every school year starts anew.

What will you do to sharpen your saw this summer?  What books will you read for personal and professional pleasure?  I’ve included some links below to potential summer reading lists.  Here are responses to those questions from a few colleagues and PLN members:

I am planning on reading, Falling In Love With Close Reading as well as articles etc. on arts integration since we are in the exploratory stages.  I’ll be sharpening the saw at the beach as much as possible.

-Donna Usewick, @dsusewick

For recreational reading, I hope to read The English Girl by Daniel Silva and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  For professional reading, I plan to read Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen.  I am traveling to Ireland as soon as school is out and taking a short trip to St. Michael’s, Maryland at the end of July for some golf.  I hope to get some more golf in on the Fridays that schools are closed.  I am also attending the NAESP conference in Nashville this July.

-Theresa Zablonski, @tzablonski

I will be reading The Homework Myth by Alfie Cohn, Positive Discipline by Nelsen, as well as Sue O’Connell’s book on math practices.  This summer, I plan to reflect on the school year and think about each aspect of our school and how to make improvements.  For myself, I will spend time with my family and hit the beach!

-Cheryl Cox, @CoxCherylcox628

The Ultimate Summer Reading List for Teachers via Scholastic:

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/ultimate-summer-reading-list-teachers

The best books about educational leadership via Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Books-About-Educational-Leadership/lm/R1TJOMF4RU830V

Top Ten School Leadership Books via @AngelaMaiers:

http://www.angelamaiers.com/2010/06/top-10-school-leadership-books.html