Snapshots: January/February 2015
Just 4 minutes of physical activity per class period boosts elementary student’s attentiveness and focus.
—APPLIED PHYSIOLOGY, NUTRITION, AND METABOLISM, JULY 2014
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
Doug Elmendorf (@delmendorf): Tell your school’s story or someone else will tell it for you.
Jeanne Moe Siegenthaler: No. 1: Take the time to hire the right people. If you don’t, you’ll pay in the long run. No. 2: Little things can make a big difference.
Gerry Petersen-Incorvaia: You never know what will come up during the day, so if you leave walkthroughs to chance, you may never get into classrooms.
Lisa Trewhitt Earby: Don’t make perceptions your reality. Address them.
Boosting Kindergartners’ Executive Function Pays Off
Executive function skills are the building blocks to learning. These skills—such as being able to focus, hold information in working memory, and regulate impulsive behavior—are important for students of any age to succeed in school. But strengthening young students’ executive skills enhances their academic performance into the next grade and potentially beyond, according to a recent study.
New York University researchers Clancy Blair and C. Cybele Raver set out to study how the Tools of the Mind curriculum shapes kindergartners’ behavior and learning. Tools of the Mind is a teaching approach developed by Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong that aims to grow students’ social/emotional skills and self-regulation abilities through “playful learning.” Kindergartners, for instance, craft Learning Plans, undertake activities at stations, and often work in pairs.
Blair and Raver’s research, published November 2014 in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first to study the neuropsychological impacts and academic outcomes of a curriculum. Blair and Raver worked with 79 kindergarten classrooms in a diverse sample of schools (some had 5 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch; some had 92 percent), assessing students in the fall and spring of one school year. They found that students in the Tools of the Mind classrooms did significantly better on working memory tasks, were more efficient at processing information, and were better able to regulate behavior. Students in high-poverty schools were also much better able to cope with distractions.
When the researchers followed up with the students in first grade, those from the Tools of the Mind kindergarten class showed higher academic ability. In high-poverty schools, these students also showed a particularly high gain in vocabulary and logical reasoning.
Further, programs like Tools of the Mind don’t require extensive additional materials. Teachers in this study received typical training “well within the budget of the average kindergarten classroom,” researchers note.
One Book, One Community
We started this project in 2010, and expanded it to include two other elementary schools. In the spring, the library media specialists from each school select a secret book. During the last full week of school, students are given daily clues to guess the book. On Friday, we unveil the book at an assembly, and our PTOs generously purchase a copy for each family. Teachers send home book-related activities and prepare lessons for the fall. It brings us together as a school and a community, and promotes family reading.
—Marie Pratt, principal of Blueberry Hill School in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and a 2014 National Distinguished Principal
Take these three steps to keep your teams humming for the second half of the school year.
1. Review your collective commitments. Revisit your list of norms— such as, “Begin and end meetings on time,” and “Maintain a positive attitude.” Survey staff to determine if any new commitments should be added.
2. Re-establish your “tights.” PLCs are built on the tight-loose balance: having some practices that are firm or structured, and others over which teachers have autonomy. Reinforce those “tight” practices and review their impact so far.
3. Plan for short-term wins. Now is the time to recognize your team’s progress on your goals. Map a schedule for the next few months of how and when you’ll celebrate milestones.
—From The School Leader’s Guide to Professional Learning Communities, available in NAESP’s National Principals Resource Center
Prepare to Vote
This spring, eligible NAESP members will elect a new president-elect and vice president. Voting will take place Fri., Feb. 27 through Thurs., March 12. For election information, including candidate biographies, visit naesp.org/2015-naesp-election.
Pamela Simpkins Principal of Mount Vernon Woods Elementary, a pre-K-6 school in Alexandria, Virginia.
Principal since: 2013
School motto: Pride, perseverance, and positivity.
Her students: 85 percent of Simpkins’ 701 students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and over half are English-language learners. But “100 percent of our students love coming to school,” she says.
Success mindset: Simpkins worked tirelessly with her staff last year to make science a priority; this year, they are tightening their focus on literacy. Despite the challenges, Simpkins—who calls her school a “gold mine” of learning and perseverance—has an unwavering belief in her students. “I tell my teachers all the time: you have 701 students. Every child belongs to all of us.”
Family and fun: At Mount Vernon Woods, family relationships are key. Simpkins arrived there in April 2013. By June of the same year, she’d organized the school’s first-ever family field trip, shuttling four buses of families to Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo.
These now quarterly trips build not only students’ knowledge, but also ties among grade-level families and the entire school community.
Community connections: Simpkins calls the relationships she has fostered with the faith and business communities “blessings.” One nearby church is helping the school build a science lab; another provides weekend backpacks of food for needy students.
Words to live by: “There’s not a day that I walk out of here and feel that all is lost. Every day is a good day, and there are days that are great days,” says Simpkins.
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