Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spring Break Vacation or Staycation?

Well, Spring Break is upon us! For those of you heading out of town, safe travels. And for those of you staying in town,  I hope you have time to enjoy some of the great things offered in our area! Regardless where you will be heading, I hope you will find the  time to enjoy your family and friends!

One thing we always tried to weave into our family trips or breaks was opportunities for our children to experience new things, and to continually learn. The few times we braved the long drive to Florida with the seven of us in the van, books were expected to travel with, and time was dedicated to unplug, and get lost in a book or spend time with school work assigned over break. When we could, we would try to weave in a stop at a historical sight along the way (although I don’t think the nerd stop I choose to Metropolis, Superman’s hometown counts!) Yet we saw many museums, nature preserves, and historical markers on the road, and to this day, our children talk as much about these side trips as the main destination.

Yet due to sports and work commitments, most vacations were here in the area. Staying at home, it is easy to have time quickly drift away, with late night gaming resulting in later and later wake-up times.We would allow a few initial “lost days” yet would quickly try to establish some schedule that included reading/school work so the transition back to school after break would not be so difficult.

We also found that there was so much locally to explore! We discovered our other area Zoo, traveling into the city to enjoy the Lincoln Park Zoo, followed by a beautiful walk through the indoor gardens of the Lincoln Park Conservatory. We enjoyed the hiking trails in our area parks, including two of my favorites from my childhood, Little Red Schoolhouse, and Fullersburg Woods. Always on a budget, we also found many of the area museums have free days, and spent a night at the Art Institute, as well as a Friday afternoon in Elmhurst at the Lizzardo Museum of Lapidary Art (or as our kids called it - the Rock Museum). There are many other great places to explore, many of them free!

So enjoy the time away from school for a week! We look forward to our students return, and learning what they learned on Spring Break!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A "Winning" Attitude

When I was younger, the Michael Phelps of the day was Mark Spitz. As a young swimmer, I remember being so excited to see swimming taking the spotlight for the first time, and spent the summer of 1972 at the Western Springs pool working on my butterfly, hoping to one day to be able to drape a few gold medals around my neck, just like my hero.

Well that dream never materialized, yet from that inspiration, swimming became a central part of my life. At that time I was already swimming year round, but I did so with a greater commitment and goal. Olympic dreams faded, transitioning to being able to make Junior Olympics, then simply making the top relay. I never came home from awards night with the MVP trophy, receiving several special awards for being the “hardest worker”. I know as time goes by, we all become better athletes in our minds, yet looking back, I can say I was an average swimmer, at best. However, I stayed with the sport all through my school years, even limiting my college search to schools I could compete at. My dreams of being an Olympic Athlete transitioned to new hopes of being a teacher and coach, possibly a coach of a one day Olympian.

Sometimes I wonder why I spent so many long hours in an activity that I received little success or recognition for all my efforts. What was it that drove me and kept me going? For this I have to give my parents a great deal of credit for helping me develop the internal grit and proper focus for the sport, and for life as well. Whether I came home with the dreaded 6th place pink ribbon, or the occasional blue, the focus was never on win or loss, nor was winning or losing a matter of life or death. Regardless of the place, Mom would ask questions, like, “Did you improve your time”, or, “Did you feel like you practiced enough for the race”, or “How did the team do”. Regardless of the outcome, the team would still head up to Highland Queen for a celebration. Ribbons were collected in a shoebox (where they still remain!), and we returned back to the pool each and every day for practice. While swimming was a great part of my life, with the proper focus provided by my parents, it never defined my life.

Recently many stories and articles have centered on the “millennials” and the “soccer trophy” generation. While there are many overly broad generalizations that are included in these stories. The concept that “everyone is a winner” is not one easily sustained, nor realistic. For myself personally, I look back at how much I would have missed in my life had I quit once I realized I would not be the next Speedo model, let alone top Lyons Swim Club Swimmer. By being provided with the proper perspective and support from my parents, I was able to enjoy what successes I personally realized as I improved from hard work, “winning” by achieving goal times I set. While I never reached those Olympic dreams as an athlete or coach, I cannot imagine what my life would be like without the opportunity I have had through coaching and education to work with countless students and athletes, many of whom I now have the privilege to still know today as parents, several in our schools. It is thanks to my parents that I have this opportunity and the proper perspective to realize what winning really is!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Welcome to Our World!

Welcome to Our World!

The other day a large group of our 8th Grade girls came down to the office, requesting to see me. Now when a big crowd is gathering outside the principal's’ office, it can bring up that “oh,oh, what’s up” feeling in the gut! However, these young ladies were coming to see me to share their ideas for a class gift, excited about ways they could leave a positive impression on the school, and wishing to be actively involved in giving back in thanks for the gifts they received.

Welcome to my world at Pleasantdale! When I share with new acquaintances that I am a Middle
School Principal, I often get that funny look, and questions about how I keep my sanity in such a profession. My response is always the same, and so easy to share. I tell them I am privileged to work with some of the nicest students I know, collaborating with caring and professional educators, and benefiting from the support of wonderful families! Now we are not perfect here, and like any community, we have our challenges and opportunities to grow. But as I frequently state, our worst day at Pleasantdale is for many schools their best. We are truly fortunate, and I know I am greatly blessed for the opportunity to be a part of this community.

Let me share a few of my other experiences, all from the past few weeks, to illustrate this better:
Let’s start with our musical last weekend, “The Lion King”. If you saw the production, I am sure you were impressed with the talents of our students, the wonderful costumes made by our directors and parents, and the overall quality of this production, especially given the size of our school. I loved all that, yet there were so many other items not on the stage that stayed with me. There was that wonderful group of recent graduates who came to not only one, but both productions to cheer on their former classmates. They were joined by many current students who came to the evening productions to support their friends. As they all gathered with the performers after the production, the level of strong support and great friendships was clearly evident!

I also was fortunate to spend some time with our Golden Apple nominee Dimitra Georganas and her
family as we attended the recognition event last weekend. The energy in the room was incredible, as families and friends gathered to celebrate excellence in education. It was a wonderful morning, made even more special by spending some time with Dimitra and her beautiful family.

Other fond memories include the final night of our Fortnightly Dance Program. This is the demonstration night, and a chance to have the students also dance with their parents! Take a look at the video posted on our webpage to get a glimpse of how special that was. There was no running and hiding from dancing with mom or dad, or anyone in fact. The night simply was fun, relaxed, and simply so rewarding to see!

I can go on and on…..we have 5th grade students trying to raise funds for their adopted turtle, “Spikey”, we celebrated this morning our P.A.W.S. Student of the Month winners, we have a stage full of pet supplies awaiting donation to a local shelter,  we have our Student Council organizing what promises to be a great Friday Night Live. Simply put, we have a great educational community, filled with wonderful students, teachers, and families! My thanks to all of you for all that I get to experience!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

So Many Opportunities to Learn and Keep On Learning!

So Many Opportunities to Learn and Keep On Learning!

The wonderfully warm holiday weekend we enjoyed a few weeks back prompted thoughts and anticipation of the upcoming warmer months and summer vacation! With a few snowflakes falling down as I write this, it might seem like summer is still far away, yet now is the time to start thinking summer and thinking about the many great opportunities we have to keep engaged in learning!

There are a wealth of activities available to explore! Our location provides us with an incredible variety of summer programs for all ages of learners. Some of my children’s fondest memories come from programs and opportunities they participated in while growing up in the area.

With Brookfield Zoo in our backyard, they each had a chance to go “backstage with the animals” and learn more in depth about the habitats and habits of the animals they loved to visit. To this day, they talk about the classes they took, what they learned, and the connections this outside learning made to some of the classes they took in high school and college. There are so many programs that they offer, for children and adults of all ages!

Other classes they took  were programs in Art Education, dance, theater, and other areas of the arts. Being so close to Chicago, these classes often culminated  in a field trip to the Museums, or theater. One of my son’s favorite classes was an art class that he took with his grandfather. He and my father still talk about this class, and the love both have of the artist they studied, “Monet.”

What these experiences provided my children was different ways to go deeper into a subject or area. In some cases they were learning alongside parents and grandparents, others times, with new friends. While all differed greatly, each experience provided my children with learning opportunities that connected to future learning in the classroom, and prompted lifelong connections to the arts, museums, and creativity.

Through the LT Adult Education program, I even stepped outside of my comfort zone and took a ceramic class with my wife in those BC (before children) years! I was far from the prize pupil, yet I still have one of my ceramic creations on a shelf alongside those my children created in class! LTHS is one of the few schools in the state that offer such a program, and The Adult Education Program is well worth looking into - both BC and AC!

We are excited to share such learning opportunities right here at Pleasantdale School District! Our Summer Academy 2017 features many great and fun classes! The courses range from Cooking to Caudill Books, from Drama to Woodworking! Our staff has put together a great program for you and your child to explore!

So keep on learning! Now, this summer, forever - the learning never stops!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Growing Together

Growing Together

One of my many favorite aspects of my job as building principal is the time I get to spend in classrooms watching our students and teachers learn together. It is so exciting to hear a student proudly exclaim, “oh, now I get it”, and then proceed to solve the problem that was challenging him/her. Equally exciting is when a class is truly in synch, with students collaborating together in small groups, creating new understandings and ideas, fully engaged and immersed in the lesson and learning. There is an incredible energy that is created in such moments, with long lasting learning in the process.

Each day I have the opportunity to witness such moments in our classrooms. Our staff is dedicated towards seeking such opportunities for collaboration and creation. Our increased access to technology and instructional support for learning through technology has opened new windows and opportunities not dreamed possible. Our students are not only collaborating in the hallways, but with students and experts around the world. Yet the virtual world remains but one method of many employed, with face-to-face opportunities still thankfully being the predominant methods.

Creating such learning opportunities for our students does not come easily. It requires careful planning, instruction, and practice. It is much easier to simply “stand and deliver” a lesson, lecturing from the front of the room, than it is to create opportunities for collaborative learning, and for our teachers to be “facilitators of the learning process.”

As we continue to look at our District Goals from the future planning process, the third one is Building Human Capital. This addresses how we secure and retain high-quality staff members, and provide them with ongoing opportunities for targeted professional development in order to best support engaging student instruction.

Just like in the classroom, the “stand and deliver” approach to professional learning only goes so far. I have been to many of conferences in which a great speaker wowed the audience, yet without time for discussion, reflection, or feedback, left the crowd with just a nice presentation and a limited time for learning. As we continue to seek opportunities for our educators to grow, we look for opportunities to collaborate and share, as well as to develop internal capacity for future support.

There are several great items ongoing this year that illustrate this approach to collaboration and growth. At the Middle School, we have been collaborating with three of our area Middle Schools for monthly subject area meetings. Through these meetings we have been able to share best practices, challenges, and established ongoing networks for support. Our Math teachers have been participating in ongoing training on professional practices, meeting regularly with colleagues and trainers in order to grow together. Our Spanish teachers have been collaborating through a similar method this year,  with ongoing training targeting instructional methods.  To add our Stem Class “Project Lead the Way” to our school, Mrs. Lewellyan participated in several weeks of training on the campus of University of Illinois, and continues to network with participants about the program. There are opportunities for ongoing growth and learning in all of our subject areas, and targeted opportunities continue to be sought.

As we continue to grow and develop as a district, we are committed to seeking opportunities for growth, collaboration and learning for our students and teachers alike. It is an exciting time in our schools, and we look forward to sharing our learning with you as well!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Are you sure you want fries with that?

Are you sure you want fries with that?

A few weeks ago I talked a little bit about the changes we are seeing in our classroom structures to better support student learning. (Starbucks My Classroom Please!) The physical space and environment in which our students are learning is rapidly changing and adapting to best meet the needs of 21st Century Learners.

Yet learning is not limited to the physical space. New opportunities continue to open up for our students online, providing incredible opportunities for our students to collaborate and learn from others, and allowing our teachers to create personalized approaches to learning for each student.  

I saw a great example of this the other day watching Mrs. Driscoll’s Health class. The students were studying foods and nutrition, tracking their food consumption vs. calories consumed/burned over a few days. I sure we all went through this lesson in our health classes, sometimes overestimating our level of exercise while underestimating how much junk we ate that day! I can’t recall much, other than feeling that there was so much more to the story than just the numbers being counted.

What a different experience I saw in Mrs. Driscoll’s room that day! A wealth of resources had been prepared for the students  online in order to fully engage  and develop an understanding of foods, nutrition and energy consumption. Students were working at their own pace through a digital package that included clips from top doctors on nutrition and calories, videos explaining food labels, interactive charts that allowed students to compare the health benefits and concerns of fast foods, and a wealth of other resources that painted a complete picture of foods and nutrition.  

While the students worked independently, Mrs. Driscoll was able to work individually with each one. She was able to review their work in progress, address questions they had on the project, and have time to have a personal contact with each and deepen the already well developed student/teacher relationship hallmark in her classroom. Over the course of the days the packet was being completed, individual conversations were conducted with each student, providing a personalized approach to learning.

Since we are still early in the New Year and all resolutions may not yet be broken (or started!) and some of the Valentines chocolates may have been a meal this week, I encourage you to take a look at Mrs. Driscoll’s Nutrition unit. Try the calorie counter, watch the clip humorously explaining portion size from “Parks and Rec”, check to see if there is any nutritional value in that Shamrock Shake! Have fun learning with your students and explore the new learning environments together!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Winter Plans

Winter Plans

The long winter months sometimes provide the best opportunities to reflect and plan for the future. As we have been sharing in past communications, we have been doing just that here at Pleasantdale School District through our Future Planning Committee. It has been an exciting and energizing process as students, staff, and community members gathered to take stock at where we are at as a district and dream for the future of what we can become in order to “create a community of inspired learners.”

Over the next few weeks we will be sharing the developed committee goals and explore together how to best realize in our learning community.

The Goal Area we are focusing on this week is: Building Learning Capacity.
“Pleasantdale leaders and learners will cultivate advancement of global competency and cultural awareness through innovative learning experiences. “

In her blog this week, Assistant Principal Mrs. Knapik talks about “ building learning capacity”, developing the tools and skills in order to continually learn and grow in an ever changing environment.

Along with developing a capacity to learn, our students will be challenged to apply what they know in a world that is becoming smaller and flatter each day. Our students will be interacting and competing on a worldwide stage utilizing means of methods of interaction and communication that exist only today in dreams and sci-fi movies.

A frequent complaint of employers regarding new applicants is not the quality of knowledge the candidates possess, but the lack of the needed skills to apply that knowledge. Most fields demand that their employees are able to work collaboratively, demonstrate good problem-solving skills, social and self awareness, self-management, and decision making skills for self and in a community context.

Illinois was the first state to try to address these essential skills by adopting the Illinois Social and Emotional Learning Standards. (SEL) Through various programs and activities in our school, we try to best address these and incorporate these into all that we do.

With  our “Eyes of the Tigers” positive behavioral program, we focus on restorative justice and seek opportunities to help students evaluate their choices in order to grow. Programs such as our recent PTA sponsored “Multi-Cultural Celebration” provides students and families opportunities to share and celebrate their heritage and promote cultural awareness and understanding. Classroom teachers carefully seek resources that help students experience the lives of others through character study and exploration, developing empathy and awareness as they walk in the shoes of that individual. Physical Education has moved past simple competitive games, shifting the focus

towards personal fitness and collaborative, lifelong activities. Students are encouraged to participate in school service events and in their communities.  Programs, such as the upcoming Internet Safety Workshop are provided to help promote self awareness and safety, and programs supported by our SEL committee target all areas in the identified standards.

This month of February, our Student Council and Kindness Club is putting the spotlight on Kindness, with a month long celebration of all things Kind. They have been providing our students with multiple opportunities to share kind words, honor those who have, and simply have fun being kind. Along the way, they are helping to develop positive relationships and actively help shape the climate of our school for the better.

As we continue to discuss our students learning capacity, we will continue to look for opportunities to help our students develop their emotional capacity at the same time in order to truly develop “a community of inspired learners.”