The "NEW" Principal's OfficePosted by Julie Melnyk on 9/13/2018 3:30:00 AM
The “NEW” Principal’s Office
Growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s, my clearest memory of the principal’s office is the Red Bench. The red bench was literally a red bench outside the principal’s office where the bad kids had to sit and wait to talk to the principal. Now I will admit (I’m sure many of you are surprisedJ) that I have several memories of sitting on that red bench. Actually, I remember the feeling of dread at the sound of the passing bell knowing that all the other kids would see me sitting there. I think my stomach is knotting up now as I type.
It’s funny how certain childhood memories can draw such an emotional response, even after so many years. Also funny, is that as much anxiety and fear as thinking about going to the principal’s office still can create in me, I cannot tell you the name of even one of the principals I had. Not one! The principal’s office was a place to fear, a place where only the naughty students went, and a place headed by a snarly, bun-wearing, harsh-sounding old woman. Okay, maybe that last part was bit over the top, but it’s pretty close to the image in my head.
Thank goodness the times have changed. However, the stereotype still exists. When I became principal of Hinckley-Big Rock Elementary School, I wanted to work on changing that perception so people could begin to see my office as a place that helps students. I also knew that I needed to communicate to today’s families about the new look.
Today, the principal’s office at Hinckley-Big Rock Elementary School is a place where students can seek solace, take some time to reflect, bounce an idea off of someone, vent, and get support. Yes, many times we talk about choices, intentions, and alternatives for “next time.” But we also have lunch together and celebrate the great demonstrations of the students’ academic and social/emotional learnings. Students get the opportunity to practice understanding and empathy but also the opportunity to articulate their emotions and voice. We role play real-life situations currently occurring in their lives so they can begin to develop a toolkit of coping and managing strategies.
I’m sure glad my memory does not match my desired reality. I don’t even know how I would look in a bun! Seriously, though, I am most thankful that my role is to support the students, teachers, and families. My favorite part of any day is when I can help a student who is struggling. I want the students to know that I am here for them and here to help them be the best that they can be. And, above all, I hope to make a big impact in each life that comes through our door. Maybe, just maybe….some students might even remember my name.
Gearing up for PARCC!Posted by Julie Melnyk on 3/8/2017
In just a little over a month, our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students, along with all students attending public schools in grades 3 through 8 in the state of Illinois, will participate in a statewide test. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, better known as PARCC, measures our students in the areas of mathematics and reading. The assessment period is a very important one for our students and our school. With this importance comes the realization of additional emotions in our students and parents. For some, there are feelings of anticipation, like excitement, the thrill of the challenge, or the eagerness to show a job well done. For others, it may be feelings of uneasiness, like anxiety, concern, or uncertainty. The political arena surrounding our state test alone can also raise questions. In light of these things, I wanted to share with you my thoughts about PARCC and our students and state testing.
PARCC is the current assessment used in Illinois. For as long as I have been in education in Illinois, we have always had a state assessment. For students in grades 3 through 8, it provides one additional piece to a more complete picture of a child’s achievement. Remember, it’s just one piece. For a school level, it is an important piece. It is a measure of academic achievement for a school. It compares all public schools across Illinois. It demonstrates how different groups are progressing and influences the measure of a school’s success. A successful school is a critical part of a thriving community.
As a building leader, it provides something else. It gives me additional information on the effectiveness of our programs in meeting your child’s needs. I can see how our students compare to students in schools around us. It provides me opportunities to reach out to fellow principals to collaboratively discuss their programs. Three years ago, when the state assessment changed from ISAT to PARCC, I began charting the progress of over 50 elementary schools from surrounding districts and counties, like Geneva, Batavia, and Yorkville. I wanted to know how our school compared in PARCC with these other schools. (Okay, I admit, there is a bit of competitiveness in me. J) So far, I have two years of data with these schools. I want to share with you a few data points:
- Overall, our school had the 8th highest score in 2016, rising from 9th in 2015. We improved our overall composite score by 8 points.
- Our 2016 math score was the 3rd highest in the list of over 50 schools. We saw a 5% increase in our 2016 math composite score over our 2015 composite score.
- In the area of reading, 21 schools scored higher than we did in 2015. In 2016, we improved to 9th place after a 9% increase in our 2016 reading composite score over our 2015 reading composite score.
I believe these achievements were a direct result of using data (all data, not just PARCC) to continually improve our programs, our practice, and ultimately, our impact on your child’s learning.
As I wrap us this blog spot, I want to remind you that while the data we gain is important, so are the emotional states of our students. While we want students to do their best, we don’t want our students to experience anxiety or fear. Our Social Emotional Learning Professional Learning Community team takes the student testing experience very seriously. Yearly, they meet to strategize ways to motivate students, increase their self-confidence, and remind them of all the support they have around them. If you are a parent of a 3rd-5th grader, you may soon be asked to write a letter of support to your child to be delivered on the first day of testing. This is just one way in which we partner with parents to help make the best experience for the students. You may ask, “What are some other ways in which I can help?” The best thing that I can suggest is working with the school to help reinforce the message at home. Talk about giving their best effort at all times, not just during the testing time. Make a plan for how to maximize success on those days. Maybe it’s a special breakfast or a different bedtime. Whatever the case, our students will know that they have a community of people behind them supporting them and their achievements. As a team, we can ensure that our students are ready to go.
I would like to thank you for your efforts in reinforcing the school’s message. Please reach out to your child’s teacher if you would like additional information.
Julie Melnyk, Principal
Every Day Counts!Posted by Julie Melnyk on 2/7/2017
The subject of this blog post is everyone’s favorite: school attendance. :-) I have had multiple conversations with many parents over the importance of strong school attendance. I was thinking that I might give the information to you in a different way. So, this blog is not going to tell you about all the research out there on the relationship between school attendance and achievement leading to high school graduation. Nor is it going to remind readers of HBR’s practices regarding attendance. There are links at the conclusion of this post for those types of documents. What this post is going to share with you are two pictures…a picture of a student who is chronically absent and another of a student who is consistently tardy. Through these two stories, I hope readers can see the negative impact missing school has on students, their relationships, and their futures.
Daniel looked around the room at his classmates. The teacher had just announced that they were going to get back into their inquiry groups from yesterday and continue the analysis that was started on their experiment conducted in class. His classmates seemed excited as they hurried to grab their lab folders and get into their groups. Already, Daniel could hear the lively discussions centered on their reactions of the “cool” experiment. Daniel felt lost after being absent for the last two days. “What experiment? What group am I in?” wondered Daniel. All of a sudden, he started feeling his stomach cramping up. He went up to ask the teacher if he could visit the nurse…
Daniel’s teacher and support team report that Daniel struggles with the multitude of missed learning due to excessive absences. “Daniel rarely appears engaged in the learning. He has a difficult time picking up new skills and concepts because he often is absent during our introductory lessons,” his teacher reports. The social worker adds, “Daniel is a sweet student, but he struggles to make positive peer interactions possibly due to his chronic missing of school days.”
Daniel’s school attendance is negatively impacting his ability to be successful in school. He reports higher stress and anxiety than his peers. He struggles making up missed work and staying current with the class learning. His performance in class is beginning to decline. Staying on this course could increase Daniel’s likelihood of frustration, lower achievement, and ultimately, school dropout.
Jessica rolls her eyes as she exits the car. Hearing the second bell as she opens the car door, she frantically exclaims to her mother, “I’m going to miss Morning Meeting again!!” She hurried to check in at the office, knowing the time would rouse the same questions she heard day after day. “They only want the best for me,” sighed Jessica to herself, referring to the office ladies who asked her what happened every day as if it was the first time. It was just that Jessica was embarrassed. She hated walking into school as everyone else was already settled in class. She was always rushing to put her things in her locker, turn in her homework, order her lunch, and quickly jot down the evening’s homework. She never had an opportunity to check in with her friends and find out who watched the latest T.V. show. “I just never have enough time,” mumbles Jessica as she scurries into the classroom. She is already feeling her muscles tensing…
Jessica’s teacher reports that Jessica is struggling to keep up with the pace of the day and often exhibits symptoms related to stress. “Her day seems to start off on a bad foot every time she is tardy,” admits Mrs. Jones. “She regularly misses Morning Meeting. That’s the time when we check in, prepare for our day, or talk about any problems that we might be having as a class.” Jessica’s school success is being impacted on her inability to be at school on time. When she is late, the tone for her day is set. Jessica is often seen as trying to catch up all throughout the day. She misses valuable camaraderie time with her peers and regularly reports feeling ill-prepared for the day.
Sadly, I know students like Daniel and Jessica. My heart hurts when I see students not being able to reach their maximum potential because they frequently miss the valuable learning opportunities. Consistent attendance is much like a chapter book. If you miss chapters 4, 7, and 9, how can you understand what going on in the story? When students miss school, they are missing valuable instruction in multiple contents areas that cannot be replicated. They miss opportunities to collaborate and share best knowledge with their peers.
The teachers and staff at HBRES are committed to your child’s success. By making your child’s school attendance a priority, you will be sending a message to your child that education is a priority for your family as well. Thank you for joining us in the partnership for success of our young people.
* Though the experiences at HBRES are very real, Daniel and Jessica are fictitious students created for the purpose of this blog.
Name-Calling and Hurtful Words Can LastPosted by Julie Melnyk on 11/17/2016
Name-Calling and Hurtful Words Can Last
Last week, I had the fortunate opportunity to work with some of our young people with an issue regarding name-calling and using mean words toward others. I know you might be thinking, “Dealing with a behavior issue doesn’t sound like something fortunate.” I look at every experience where I get to educate a child in the area of social/emotional learning as a great opportunity. To educate. To model empathy. To teach.
That day, those young people were struggling to understand where that invisible line stood between lighthearted teasing with a friend and using words intended to hurt. It was then that I realized several things:
- As adults, we need to explain more. Our children do not always understand the blurred and, often delicate, line between teasing and fun and being mean-spirited. Often when I discuss this with students, we come to learn that the situation started as fun between friends. Quickly, one person hears something that doesn’t sit 100% with them. Of course, elementary students (not uncommon with adults) regularly have difficulty sharing their feelings of hurt or embarrassment with their friends. Sometimes, these friends do not even have a clue that the other friend is hurting. I always tell our students, “It’s teasing and fun as long as both parties are on the same page. As soon as one friend is not, it is no longer teasing and fun.”
- As adults, we need to model more. I was trying to think back to the last time I used a word, other than someone’s legal name, to name them. I believe last Friday, I responded to a friend with, “You goof!” That led me to begin wondering how well we model the distinction between friendly banter and unkind language. Do we take the time to explain to our young person the distinction? As children grow, they try out new behaviors that they observe around them. It is important that we remember that in some aspects, we are always modeling behavior when our students are present. We want to ensure that they are picking up the best parts of us. J
- As adults, we need to teach more. As educators, there is an old adage we are all familiar with: “When students can’t read, we teach them to read. When students can’t add and subtract, we teach them math strategies. However, when they fail to make appropriate choices, we discipline.” Discipline is an interesting word and it is important that you understand our concept of discipline. Discipline is meant to change behavior, not merely be seen as a punishment. Punishment alone cannot be our motto with our young people. In this age of smart phones and increasing time interacting with the online world, our young people need us now more than ever. Having the ability to interact well with others is not an innate behavior. We have to teach those strategies including body language, non-verbal cues, etc. We cannot assume our students automatically understand those nuances of communication.
I frequently share with my students of a rather shameful time in my childhood when I used hurtful words toward a classmate. I think it is important to model that we are human, but that also, like they will, we learned to make better choices and develop empathy and understanding towards others. I also share that story for another reason. Hurtful words can last. I said those words when I was fourteen years old and I am….well, let’s just say I am much older than that. J Throughout all these years, I remember the girl’s first and last name, have a very detailed image of what she looked like in my mind, and most importantly, I remember the words I said. I remember like it was yesterday. I only hope she can’t. Hurtful words can last.
GritPosted by Julie Melnyk on 10/11/2016 7:00:00 AM
Cultivating a Growth Mindset through Praise
As parents and educators, we try hard to praise children when they successfully complete a task or learn a new skill. It is what we are supposed to do, right? Actually, not so much – or, at least not in the way that we are used to. In her research, Dr. Carol Dweck found that there are two basic mindsets; growth and fixed. The way children are praised impacts their mindset, and mindset is what will influence a child’s willingness to try new and more difficult tasks. We want to help cultivate a growth mindset in children. It is the very thing that will make a child believe that they can be successful in anything they choose. The growth mindset is the idea that “I can learn anything I want” and “There are no limits to my knowledge and skill.” On the flipside, a fixed mindset is the idea that “I am only as smart as I’ll ever be” and “I’m just not good in math.” The idea here is that knowledge and skill are finite, and sadly, children with this mindset believe that their intelligence is capped. We have grown accustomed to person praise; saying and hearing things like “You are so smart!” and “You’re an awesome artist!” In reality, our brains develop an immunity to this kind of praise and over time, the brain needs stronger and stronger doses to be satisfied and will therefore diminish the desired behaviors. Try process praise instead to help cultivate a growth mindset in children. Instead of praising attributes, praise effort and strategy instead with words like this, “It looks like you’ve come up with some excellent strategies to help you solve those math problems!” or “I really like how you organized your paper. It seems like you put great thought into what you are trying to say.” Try including process praise in your everyday interactions with your children. With a little practice, you may soon see the effort and determination increase.