Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Principal's Office is Not a Bad Place

When we moved into our new administration building last July, I was thrilled to have an office and adjoining conference room! The previous principal's office had such a small space that there was barely room to hold a meeting in there. That is why I decided last year that I would invite every class to visit the principal's office. It was amusing to see students walking so quietly and respectfully into the office, not quite knowing why they were there. I had so much fun reading them stories and having them ask questions about the building. They looked around and noticed all the details that personalized the office and inquired about photos of my family, or a poster from Mike Strembitsky Elementary School, and asked why some of the windows were different colors. I told them that the principal's office was not a scary place and that I would love for them to visit me anytime.

Fast forward to this week. Our second graders are in the midst of a project-based unit on taking care of the Earth.  This is their description of their unit: Our uses or misuses of natural resources has a direct effect on our lives as well as future generations. Yesterday was also International Dot Day so it was a great opportunity to use the bags of bottle caps that someone donated to our second graders. (Thanks, Jenny Dyer!) Since reflection is such an important part of a lesson plan, I'd like to share my thoughts after teaching a math lesson that involved counting and adding larger numbers.

  • Sharing the learning targets at the beginning helped to focus the lesson on what students would be expected to know and do.
  • Giving students opportunities to share what they've learned and to ask questions before beginning the activity took time but it was essential as a way to involve students in the lesson. One of the questions that students in all classes came up with is "Can we recycle those bottle caps?" What a great question for them to research! Is there a place in Hawaii that would accept those bottle caps?
  • With guidance, students can work together to accomplish an assignment. Some groups worked very well together and others took longer to get started, but in the end, all groups were able to count the bottle caps in their pile.
  • The students were engaged. Yes, it was a bit noisier-than-usual in the office, but it was the kind of noise that we like to hear from students.
  • Some groups were amazing and came up with their own way of organizing their bottle caps so they could count them easily. One pair of girls even recorded their groups of tens by using tally marks. When it came time to count, they were quickly able to look at their marks and count by 10's to get to their total of 322. I was impressed! (I wish I had a photo of them and their strategy!)
These are the things I would do differently if I taught a similar lesson again:
  • I would share the lesson plan ahead-of-time with the classroom teachers so they can give feedback and be better prepared to co-teach the lesson. This means I need to be better prepared the next time; frankly, I kept changing my plans and it wasn't finalized until the morning of the lesson. Luckily, all the teachers jumped right in to assist.
  • Working with manipulatives is engaging for students. However, I think the lesson would have been more effective in a small group where the teacher could formatively assess students and have them explain their thinking. There were groups that couldn't quite get off the ground. They appeared to be doing fine when an adult was there, but we would return after a few minutes and they were back to square one. This is why I believe that teaching students to work independently is so important. This allows the teacher time to work with small groups and to take notes on students to see where they may need more assistance.
  • I should have activities available for the early finishers. Those groups who had a plan and executed that plan often finished their assignment quite quickly. They ended up helping other groups or just milling around. What a waste of valuable learning time!
I am appreciative that I am able to invite students into the principal's office, and I love the hugs I get in return. Several of the students mentioned that they had been in the office the previous year, and they even remembered the story I read to them. Building a positive relationship with students pays huge dividends down the road, especially for those students who may struggle socially or behaviorally. I hope our students realize that going to the principal's office can be a really good thing!

Students generated questions after seeing a bag of bottle caps. This teacher used a Thinking Map to record student ideas. She also had students estimate how many bottle caps they thought were in the bag. 
This group opted to sort their bottle caps by color and then count them. 
This group worked quickly and made rows of tens. Counting was then pretty easy since they all know how to count by tens. 


  1. I think what you are doing is very commendable as I know how little discretionary time you actually have! I also agree that inviting the students into the principal's office for a pleasant activity takes away the mystic/often fearfulness of the position & the space. You are a pretty amazing administrator, IMHO!

    1. Well, I have a great team, Agnes. You, Yuuko and everyone else at HKES makes my job wonderful!