Reading Resolutions 2016

At this time last year, I set out some 2015 Reading Resolutions. My resolutions last year included:

  1. Read a professional book (or journal/article) monthly and share reflections with you.  I ended up reading nearly 4o professional books last year and loved the knowledge of best practices in teaching, learning, and leading I gleaned from them. I also enjoyed sharing these with you through blog posts, conversations, and emails!
  2. Have family “read to self” time
  3. Read at least once a week to students at lunch time
  4. Continue on the Newberry Challenge

As part of the twitter #oneword challenge, I set my focus word for the year to “PROGRESSIVE.” I wanted this word to support the fact that we already have a lot of wonderful strategies, plans, and goals in place, but our focus should be on constant renewal, improvement, and progress on the things we are good at and want to make better in all areas of our school community. I want to ensure that my practices reflect that word and reading is one way to continuously learn and grow as an educator. Being progressive and making progress in all areas in rejuvenating, rewarding, and reinvigorating. The New Year is a time for Renewal.

Whereas the word “Progressive” applies to all areas, my blog today is focused on reading. Readers are Leaders. Leaders are Readers.

I successfully kept my resolutions and am happy to set new or continue them from last year. This year, my resolutions include:

  1. Read a professional book monthly and blog my reflections as well as update the sign outside the office with the current titles.
  2. Continue to develop a culture of readers in my own home
  3. Read weekly to students at lunch or in the classrooms
  4. Continue the Newberry Challenge (and update that on my door outside the office)
  5. Create a “Reading Flood Zone”
  6. Consider other environments in the building to share professional reading materials with staff. New articles will be displayed in the bathroom and lounge for reading at leisure.

I encourage you to set and share your reading resolutions with your students and colleagues. You may also choose to have students make resolutions as we develop a culture of readers!

Some resources to get you started can be found at:


DGS Literacy Harvest

Dunlap Grade School teachers hosted the first Literacy Harvest to provide parents relevant resources and book titles to support the development of a culture of readers in the home. As part of this evening program, teachers reviewed current and beneficial technological applications or websites and current book titles or authors for parents. Parents accessed available technological devices to browse each resource and analyze potential uses for their child.

The following applications we reviewed and serve as recommended resources for parents to access at home with their child


News-o-Matic: features daily news stories and current events and serves as a resource for non-fiction texts.

Starfall: offers early reading activities, texts, and resources for developing readers in K-2. Vivid images and animated text makes it engaging for young learners. The navigation is simple for little learners.

Goodreads: allows readers to document their reading life, connect with other readers, write reviews, and develop a reading plans. Students could benefit from authentic reading and writing audiences.

Kids Learn to Blog: provides the structure and information for children to learn to blog. Blogging provides an authentic audience and purpose for writing that can enrich students’ writing experiences or allow them to share with an audience experiences.

Read.Write.Think.: provides several resources for home and school that includes writing templates and generators that are easy to use.

Wonderopolis: Is a favorite at DGS for students to search ‘wonders’ and find answers to questions like “What is a Hot Dog” or “How is a Telescope Made.” Students can search particular topics or ask their own ‘wonders.’ Answers provide kid-friendly responses with multi-media pictures or videos.

Word Salad: This app is available in iTunes at A word cloud generator that can support the development of a reader’s ability to determine importance, synthesize or text, or expand their knowledge of vocabulary.

Newsela features engaging non-fiction texts and serves as a resource for non-fiction texts that allows the teacher or parent to differentiate text by lexile level.

AR Home Book Finder: search to determine a particular book is an AR book, determine book level, or find related books to a particular keyword.

In addition to reviewing the applications, staff reviewed ways parents could assist their child in choosing relevant and meaningful book titles. Parents “Bobbed for Books” as we provided parents complimentary copies of a few of our favorite titles and spoke to our decision for including them in why they were chosen. Of the book titles shared, we focused on the variety of ways to choose appropriate and engaging books:


  1. Balance your reading diet with a combination of fiction and non-fiction texts across genres
  2. Picture books may require higher levels of critical thinking and are appropriate to use across grade levels to engage learners in inferences of pictures, plot, and character development.
  3. Texts that tell a strong story can also be great examples for other literacy elements.
  4. Graphic Novels are popular, engaging, and appealing to readers. It is ok to encourage these.
  5. The “Who Am I” series provides students access to biographies at a grade and age-appropriate level.
  6. Accessing the Newberry or Caldecott honor lists can provide an instant list of books that are award winning for their contribution to children’s literature or illustrations.
  7. Books written by the same author or included in the same series can provide students structure in character development or plot structure; however, some authors write texts that are very different in theme, level, or content.



Thanks to Stefanie Pitzer and Samantha Mahrt for their planning, preparation, and delivery of the important content that was shared with families!

Finding the Spark. Lighting a Flame.

Following my first year as a building principal in 2012, I came across a book that turned to be a cornerstone of my professional educator library and has heavily influenced my ideas about how we engage students in an educational environment. After reading it myself, I bought copies for the staff. The book was the spark. The passion for teaching and learning has been the flame. Incrementally, I have observed much of my staff use the ideals in the book to create lessons and experiences for their students that make me proud to be a lead learner and principal. That book was “Teach Like a Pirate” by Dave Burgess.

Over the course of the past several years, I’ve connected with Mr. Burgess on twitter. @burgessdave. As a connected educator, this social media tool has allowed me to develop a professional learning network that consistently and constantly equips me with a direct resource for new ideas, motivation, and resources. It is hands down my primary source for relevant, current, and innovative best practices in education. (The twitter topic and it’s power to promote professional learning is a completely different topic and blog post). That being said, I’ve participated in the twitter #tlap chats regularly to glean motivation and innovative ideas from other educators around the country and love seeing these applied in my building.

That being said, last March, I received the preliminary program for this year’s Illinois Reading Council’s 2015 Conference #IRC2015. I was excited to see that both Dave Burgess (#tlap) and Donalyn Miller (#titletalk/#nerdybookclub) were going to be featured speakers. I’ve referenced Donalyn Miller in a previous post about reading emergencies at

I connected with Dave on twitter and invited him to dinner with the DGS royals and was elated that he agreed to join us. I was thankful to provide such a unique learning experience for the staff to eat and socialize with a fellow educator that is so passionate about reforming the classroom in ways that spark engagement and boost creativity. Upon entrance to the restaurant, Dave placed a folded up piece of paper on the table and instructed us not to touch it. Talk about hooking us early on with a mystery. We were all intrigued and somewhat antsy to see what was contained in that small folded up piece of paper. Following dinner and conversation, Dave took time to do what he does best: engage and inspire educators by modeling practices that could be applied in any classroom across grade levels and content areas. I am so glad that the team of teachers below was able to share in this experience:


It was no secret, that Dave has a passion for magic, entertaining, and MATH. We were amazed by his ability to recognize math patterns to perform some pretty unique ‘tricks.’ Although they were equally impressive, the final exercise required different individuals at the table to input a variety of randomly selected digits and operations into a cell phone calculator obtained from another team member at the table. Following the input of numbers, the equals sign was pushed and the answer was 62639. This seemingly random and meaningless number had us stumped. Dave then asked for us to reveal the contents of a folded napkin. Upon unfolding it, it my name was written across it. Still stumped, he directed us to the keypad on our phones where M=6, A=2, N=6, D=3 and Y=9. Amazing.

We ended up that positive note and parted ways for the evening, in awe of what we just witnessed. When I returned home, I framed the napkin. Not because it was written by an author and educator that I have tremendous respect for, but because of what it served to teach me about education, instruction, and learning. I plan on placing it in my office as a reminder of the following:


1. The experiences we create for children should be magical. I look at my name inscribed on a napkin and can’t explain how the randomly selected numbers and sequences arrived at the answer. It is an experience that still brings a smile to my face a day later reflecting on it. The environment we create for our students should be similar. Can we expect them to reflect on a math worksheet with fondness and admiration? The answer is. NO! What can we do to create a similar sense of magic in our own content areas and grade levels? How does that apply to math instruction? How does that apply to reading, writing, social studies and science?

2. We don’t have to have the answers for children. The best part of the entire delivery was that we had higher level, in-depth conversations about the math patterns involved in his ‘magic’ without ever determining the final answer. Dave laid the foundation for these conversations and facilitated some talking points, but never gave us the answer. Learners should construct their own knowledge and hold collaborative conversations regarding this knowledge.

3. We can teach content standards within the context of well-thought out and orchestrated learning tasks that are memorable and in some cases, life-changing. There is a difference between teaching content and teaching children. That one napkin reminds me that a well-thought out lesson can have adults debating the use of calculation, math practices, and operations. We will remember that. If Dave can do that for a group of educated adults, we can do that for our students.

In addition to dinner, my team was able to be involved in three of Dave’s presentations at the #IRC2015 conference. These sessions focused on creativity, passion, and development of a PLN (personal learning network). There were moments of clarity, a-has and amazement, but mostly, sparks of light that are ready to ignite a fire of learning at DGS. I know that the experiences encountered today will translate to improved learning experiences for our students. The team that attended also left renewed, rejuvenated, and challenged to find ways to #tlap their lessons and improve their content delivery, focus on their passions, and foster learning environments that “kids want to buy tickets to attend.”

So that little napkin with my name inscribed symbolizes more than just a fun dinner out. It reminds me that we can’t just be a spark, we have to bring the heat!

And as Dave says, “We can’t be good…. we have to be remarkable!”



Friday Focus: Great Things I’ve Seen This Week at DGS

  • 4th grade uses read alouds as an opportunity to model proficient oral reading for their students. I have a great book, “In Defense of the Read Aloud” if you are interested in reading the importance of consistently modeling reading across all grade levels.
  • Mrs. Zarko created a video to communicate how her feedback form works for parents. This tool builds parents’ capacity for understanding 2nd grade expectations and their student learning. You can view it at
  • Positive Office Referrals are being shared when they come in. I love to read these to our students and showcase the positive behaviors. It provides a great model for other students and builds positive rapport and relationships with the students and their parents that receive them.
  • Kindergarten completed a team work activity in PE that required them to exercise their communication and problem-solving skills.
  • Some third grade students were observed correcting their own understanding in math, but moving from the concrete to pictoral to abstract levels in a flexible and supported environment.
  • Our strong and cohesive team came together to support each other and a student in need on Thursday.
  • The Hallway number line was observed being used as students recognized number patterns and continued to develop number sense.
  • Having Mrs. Cranford in our building has been a great asset. She’s been able to support our students so much already with various nursing needs.

Friday Focus: Great Things I’ve Seen This Week at DGS!

There’s been a lot of buzz around the building as our staff and students get into the groove and steady pace of the new school year. Classrooms are settling into routine and we’re one week away from progress reports already! This is not a comprehensive list of all the great teaching and learning that occurs on a daily basis, but check out a sliver of what great things happened this week:

  • Mr. Wright introduced sketch books to some of his students that will be used to document their growth and learning in art class
  • Caterpillars are growing, evolving and soon will be chrysalises. This hands on science project is always engaging and fun for the students.
  • Students revising their personal narratives in 5th grade provided fantastic, authentic, and constructive feedback to each other. You should have heard their suggestions for improvement and focus on growth in their writing.
  • Students in PE working in collaborative groups while developing stamina, balance, and communication skills in crab soccer
  • A life size number line with chalk in the back parking lot to develop number sense for multiplication and repeated addition in 3rd Mrs. Lanser used her megaphone to cheer on her students as they made giant leaps down the number line!
  • 4th grade really does a great job with their read alouds. There is a lot of research that supports the power of an effective read aloud and how the modeling by teachers supports student learning and development of fluency and prosody.
  • First Grade started number bonds with a simple but impacting craft that will allow students to visual the concept
  • Web-Based classroom review of a read-aloud models connected learning, social reading, and aligns with our Regie Reading beliefs

Purposeful Development of Character

Dunlap Grade School staff understands that a comprehensive approach to educating the whole child is important to ensuring academic success. As a building leadership team, we have invested in a goal that strives to ensure we develop both academic and social/emotional elements of the child.

Our goal is:

DGS will develop learners that have empathy, can manage their emotions, develop skills for learning, and problem solve as evidenced by implementation of the Second Step Curriculum with Integrity and Fidelity during the 2015-2016 school year.

Our core mechanism for teaching social behaviors is Second Step. As indicated on their webpage, “Social-emotional skills—like math skills—build on each other. Our universal, classroom-based program is designed to teach children how to understand and manage their emotions, control their reactions, be aware of others’ feelings, and have the skills to problem-solve and make responsible decisions. Each grade-level kit includes easy-to-teach, short weekly lessons, engaging songs and games, and daily activities and take-home materials to reinforce learning. Watch video overview.”

Teachers use Second Step on a weekly basis to teach skills that target the core competencies of social and emotional learning. In addition to weekly instruction, We have developed several strategies that recognize students for their performance of these skills.

The positive office referral is submitted to myself, as the principal, from a teacher or other staff member. These narrative recognize students for going above and beyond expectations. These students are then celebrated at morning announcements in front of the whole student body, their picture taken, their parents given a personal contact by me, and given a copy of the referral. It’s a joy to see students beam due to their accomplishments as well as reinforce exemplary behavior to the students in the schools. Parents appreciate the positive contact. It’s a win-win-win-win for teachers, students, parents and administration!

positive office referral

We recognize that teachers may not see all the wonderful behaviors our students are exhibiting so we offer a student shout out that are completed by their peers. Children have the opportunity to recognize their classmates as well!



For those times that behavior in the hallway in the classroom should be acknowledged quickly or at the point of occurrence, students may earn at second step sticker. These stickers may be given in the hallways for following expectations, in the cafeteria, or in the classroom when students show a kind deed that aligns with the values of second step.


Finally, on a monthly basis, one student from each class or content area (art, music, PE, technology, world language, resource) are selected by their teachers and named a Royal of the Month.

To be selected “Royal of the Month, students must meet the following ROYAL criteria:

Respect Others

Respect Yourself

Respect Learning

Criteria also include, but are not limited to:

  • Demonstrating Second Step Skills for learning, empathy, emotion management and problem solving.
  • Students show progress and improvement in subject areas.
  • Students make contributions to the community through service.
  • Students display exemplary leadership skills.
  • Students show positive attitude toward classmates, school staff, learning and school.
  • Students have good attendance.
  • Students demonstrate appropriate behavior.
  • Students encourage others to do their best.
  • Students work up to their ability.
  • Students exhibit good character, hard work, and honesty.



Students will be recognized with:

  • Recognition at Morning Announcements
  • Certificate of Achievement
  • Photograph displayed on the foyer bulletin board
  • Rock Star Trophy from the Principal, Mrs. Ellis


Fostering an Environment of Numeracy Across All Settings

A school goal of ours is to foster an environment of numeracy. Our action plan includes references to school data and ties to our curriculum and standards, but math instruction needs to be thought of as an element of instruction that should be embedded across the school day and across environments. This thought process has required some outside of the box thinking so that students are exposed to numbers and math concepts throughout their days.

This has led to the math facts written in the bathroom stalls, angles drawn outside the gym door, vocabulary displayed along lines in the hallways, and access to math resources outside the classroom.

There is a consistent focus in education on embedding literacy across the school day in all content areas. At DGS, you will see a well-established culture of reading through book shelves in the hallways, healthy classroom and school libraries, and the focus on reading activities across the grade levels. We know that creating a literature rich environment supports students as developing readers, and the fundamental principles of establishing a literature rich environment apply to mathematical instruction as well.

As indicated in Lainey Simmon’s book Guided Math, ‘As students see numbers and math-related materials  throughout the classroom and participate in real-world, meaningful problem-solving opportunities, they begin to see the connection math has to their own lives.” The author continues to explain that a numeracy rich environment promotes mathematical thinking and that math is a constructive process. That being said, embedding elements of math in the bathroom, in the hallways, or in other unique locations set the stage for fostering an environment that supports students acquisition of number sense and math concepts. Math is not to be seen in isolation, but across environments and elements of the child’s life. We look forward to embedding more examples through DGS to support classroom math instruction for our Royals!





 11891446_1012848925413628_830648250120812964_o“Math Fact Graffiti” in the bathrooms!


Friday Focus: Great Things I’ve Seen This Week at DGS!

The best part of my job (even though there are many things I love) is getting into the classrooms and observing the students and teachers doing what they do best: Learn and Teach! Each week I share in my staff memo (coined the Friday Focus) a list of great things I have observed throughout the week while in classrooms. Whereas this list is not comprehensive, I wanted to share just a peek of the learning and teaching that is going on this week at DGS!


  • The use of the 5 rules from whole brain teaching has been a joy to watch. The rules are consistent across grade levels, easy to remember, and engaging for our kids.
  • The Chromebooks are out in classrooms and already getting used! I’ve seen them used to write google docs, access moby max, perform research, and develop GoodReads Accounts to maintain student book logs digitally!
  • I’ve seen some great TLAP activities going on; “Talking Sticks,” Spaghetti and Marshmallows, PlayDoh, IPICK books, technology, purple royal pens, book tastings, ect! Everyone has really done a fabulous job creating engaging and meaningful activities to welcome our students back this week. The environment and lessons we create have a direct impact on the engagement and motivation by our students.
  • Hands on science learning in 3rd grade using colored markers, water, and coffee filters to teach the scientific method.
  • Classes seizing transition times to maximize learning with reading emergencies and math flashcards
  • Positive Office Referrals turned in to recognize ROYAL skills! I enjoy sharing these positive notes with parents and at morning announcements!
  • Engaging parent presentations and technology connections with families during Back to School Nights. The use of blogs, twitter and ongoing parent communication fosters ‘glass classrooms’ and effective and efficient parent relationships and rapport!
  • “Intro to Counselor” sessions that used props to engage kids in the role of the counselor!
  • Introduction of the Buddy Bench!
  • Deputy Butterfield playing with kids on the playground! A great example of “Swimming with the Fish”
  • Classes seizing the awesome weather to take classes outside for learning opportunities

Hallway Number Line Builds Number Sense

A Dunlap Grade School goal includes creating an environment of numeracy for our students. I realize that this doesn’t just occur in the classroom and have made attempts to embed it through the building. Coming to visit, you may see flashcards on rings/hooks in the hallways for students to access during transition times and most recently, the hallway number line.



Developing a strong number sense is vital in the early success in mathematics. A “good intuition about numbers and their relationships develops gradually as a result of exploring numbers, visualizing them in a variety of contexts, and relating them in ways that are not limited by traditional algorithms” (Howden, 1989).

Number lines foster mathematical understanding in a variety of ways, including helping students understand that:

1)   Numbers represent quantities

2)   Spoken number names (“one,” “two,” etc.) and formal written symbols (1, 2, 3, etc.) are just different ways of referring to the same underlying quantities

3)   The quantities represented by the symbols have inherent relationships to each other (7 is more than 5, for example) and it is this property of the quantities that allows us to use the symbolic number representations to solve certain kinds of problems (putting objects in order, counting to determine how many objects are in a set, etc.)



This hallway number line can be an additional resource for teachers to access during transition times or at a point in their instruction when a life-sized model could enhance their instruction.

Additional models of mathematics will be included in the hallways and other common school areas in the near future.





Teaching Artistic Behaviors in Art Class

This year the DGS art program has seen some changes. Most notably is a change from a more traditional art room to one that is more student directed. You may have noticed that the work your child/children bring home is substantially different from years past. In the past all students in a particular class or grade level did work of a similar theme and they usually ended up looking quite similar to everyone else’s in that class/grade level. This year students are given an introduction to materials and/or techniques and then the students choose how to apply that information in a way that becomes more personal. The room is broken up into different stations (centers) and the students choose to draw, paint, collage, or work with clay as they see fit. Decision making, problem solving, creativity, and “choice” are central to how we are doing things now. Students are now making authentic child art instead of things that are what we as adults sometimes consider “good”. The students are doing a great job at all grade levels at learning to care for materials, clean up after themselves, and discover different ways to address ideas that are personal to them. In the future I would like to see a fibers (weaving) station and hopefully a technology/photo station where the students can take photos of their work; either in progress or finished. Please feel free to check out the link below to learn more about what a choice based art program is about.



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