Motivated to learn…

There’s no need to be ashamed or to hide it; I am a lifelong learner.  bva-7From the time I could read, learning has intrigued and empowered me in ways I could never explain.  Such is the case this week as our MISD leadership team grapples with these five critical questions during our two-day conference with the Schlechty Center:

  1. How do we get others to “buy-in” as we continue our journey to transform into the leading learning organization in the nation?
  2. What are some tools and resources we can employ to get to know our “who” (our learners and classroom leaders) to determine if they are engaged and why?
  3. How do we provide and receive meaningful feedback and encouragement to and from our colleagues on this journey?
  4. What work inspires autonomy, mastery, creativity, and a sense of purpose?
  5. How do we bring JOY to the learning everyday?

These are not easy questions to ask nor easy questions to ponder for answers!  We know there is a strong link between engaged students, teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, and community members, and increased levels of overall performance and achievement for all.  In their book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer discuss it this way:  “Intrinsic motivation is the love of the work itself—doing the work because it is interesting, enjoyable, satisfying, engaging, or personally challenging.  Intrinsic motivation—deep engagement in the work—can drive people to surprising displays of effort.”  This is true of children in classrooms and adults in real jobs everyday!  Ask yourself the five questions above about your own work; what are your thoughts?  How do we build intrinsic motivation and deep engagement in young learners so they successfully reach their fullest potential?

As always, I welcome your thoughts and perspectives as we continue to tackle these questions…

Note:  In the meantime, thanks for providing some extrinsic motivation (in the form of $) to pump up our POWER of Miller success this week!  🙂

Oh, the places we’ll go…

I had the honor today of reading to a sweet new friend coming to our Printcampus this year.  He chose the Dr. Suess book Oh The Places You’ll Go as his preference and we gathered together on the sofa for a few moments of shared reading time while his mom completed her “homework.”  I was instantly struck by this child’s questions, his curiosity, and his charming wit, not to mention his enthusiasm for learning to read in the days ahead.  “I will read with my new teacher on the first day, won’t I?”  (and believe me when I say I will make certain this occurs).  In fact, his entire attitude about starting school in a new place warmed my heart!  You see, this is his fifth school in one year of formal education; he is accustomed to moving and making new friends at a tender young age.  His resiliency and desire for learning are strong; he forges ahead with great passion.  His parting comment to me today: “We ARE off to great places so we’re on our way, Mrs. Van!”  🙂  Welcome to LaRue Miller Elementary little friend; oh the places we’ll go indeed!

EGGStraordinary EGGSperiences…

Truly EGGSciting opportunities emerged today in various IMG_0035parts of the building!  From EGG artists and EGG hunts to chocolate chickens to funny bunnies to a spring parade, it was quite an EGGSellent day indeed.

Some Kinder friends took EGGSactly 55 seconds to locate all 497 EGGS hidden by a special bunny out on the Tricycle Town lawn.  Noted one learner:  “Someone mowed the grass so this wasn’t too hard, Mrs. Van!”  🙂

IMG_0038Some older learners led discussion and research EGGSpertise with younger learners (book buddies) by EGGSplaining their traditional customs and sharing Easter ideas.  They completed the activity with EGGSotic EGGSamples of springy EGG designs…what fun for all involved!

Funny bunnies wrote springtime jokes to share with 4th grade writers who were finishing their final touches on reviews for next week’s state assessment tests.  These younger learners shared rhymes and riddles they created for their book buddies.  One example:  “Why did the chicken get upset with the rabbit?  Because nobunny helped him cross the road!”  🙂  (I know; right?!)

A finale for the day was a spring bonnet parade some friends shared with their “book bunnies” by decorating EGGSpressive hats with kind words and sayings for best wishes in the days ahead.  As one friend noted:  We’ve had some EGGStraordinary EGGSperiences today at Miller!  Here’s hoping you have some of your own this spring weekend.  EnJOY your day off tomorrow, LME, and Happy Easter!

HEARTy Creations

valcutouts A group of students entered the classroom and found multiple heart cutouts scattered upon each classroom desk.  Someone noted, “It must have rained hearts in here over the weekend!”  The children were challenged to create something from the hearts, using all the sizes and colors placed on their particular desk.  Once the creations were completed, the writing and sharing commenced.

An activity like this brings out the clever, unique, and fun side of learning for students.  Being able to have choice in novel ways creates ownership of the work and the results.  Learners authentically engage themselves because they have the protection to create without the fear of failing—there are no right or wrong answers.

It is our goal to design meaningful and engaging work for learners everyday.  We concentrate more on the WHO rather than the WHAT.  We specifically think about the students for whom this work is intended by identifying their roles, responsibilities, and unique abilities or challenges.  Likewise, our students are also able to make decisions regarding some part of the learning experience while providing a variety of skills, styles, and unique approaches to their learning, their interests, and their work.  In the words of one learner, this combination definitely makes for “lovely learning and HEARTy creations!”   Indeed!  🙂

Learning is FUNdamental!

Our grade levels and departments spent time in conversation with me during team conferences throughout the day.  While our learners were enJOYing specials time in art, music, and PE, each small group gave their planning time to a round table discussion of agenda items.  From lesson planning to budgets to data digs to instructional strategies, we covered our bases in unique and profound ways within each group meeting.

Three key touchstones surfaced during each visit today:

  1. Knowledge:  Each team is focused on goals and clearly KNOWS our campus story and direction.
  2. Wisdom:  The wealth of wisdom among each team is a powerful; knowledge, after all, is power.
  3. Understanding:  Knowing themselves and each other as we build relationships with learners and families brings greater understanding and overall success.

I must say each group is planning their work, working their plans, and autographing their work with personal excellence each day!

At the conclusion of these nine group meetings, I walked out into the main hallway during dismissal (ready for some sunlight and change of scenery).  A third grade friend smiled at me and commented, “I missed you at lunch today, Mrs. Van, but my teacher told us you were in learning meetings…I hope your learning today was as FUNdamental as mine!”  🙂

Technology and Learning

Technology continues to change the way we teach, learn, work, and connect in our classrooms today.  The following skills are ones we focus on for today’s learners to ensure they are 21st century leaders for their successful futures:

  • Basic Programming Language:  Our learners consume online content (for example, our Miller students rarely know what a card catalog is!).  We empower them in their daily learning to create their own multimedia online content (such as classroom blogs, etc.).  If you visit a site like Scratch (, you will find fun, easy, engaging ways to use programming language and to help your student create interactive stories, animations, games, and even music.
  • Meaningful Projects:  We have our learners participate in projects throughout the school year that have impact on our community.  Although quite challenging at times, they learn important higher order thinking and critical problem solving skills in the process.  Check with your child’s teacher to learn what technology projects are forthcoming.
  • Responsible Digital Citizens:  The Internet is not going away, so teaching our learners to navigate the online world safely and responsibly requires a practical approach from educators and parents; we must continue to work together.

As our students become increasingly mobile, we are also finding ways to integrate mobile devices (such as smartphones) in ways that benefit learning in the classroom.  Some of our Miller 5th grade teachers have started this process on certain projects (and with parent permission only).  Technology and learning are interchangeable really; we hope you join us on this exciting journey!

Note:  Just a reminder we are testing this week.  We appreciate your understanding, patience, and cooperation as we work for the benefit of all our learners. 

Tricycle Town!

It’s still humbling to know others actually read and comment on this blog occasionally.  There were some yesterday who read the short blurb about our Tricycle Town and wanted to know more (thanks for sharing your questions with me) . . .

I absolutely adore our Tricycle Town here at LME (thanks to the Midlothian Education Foundation for initially funding this innovative grant request our first year in operation at LME).  This outdoor dramatic play area consists of a tricycle path complete with fishing pond, booths (interchangeable with various signs to represent community places and town structures), road signs, and all manner of fun, interactive outdoor equipment.  The overall purpose is to promote core subject skills (math, science, language, literacy, social studies, cooperative play, gross motor, and physical fitness) in young learners through hands-on dramatic play experiences.  Students have the opportunity to experience unique life lessons as they “drive” their tricycles through the town.  Social skills, real-life problem solving situations, and communication skills through the magical world of make-believe provide solid foundations for young, developing minds.  Furthermore, this area is easily adapted to meet the needs of any young learner.  Peyton tells me “I like to ride but the helmet is itchy.” 🙂

Ashley is getting off her tricycle to fish in the pond before eating her Happy Meal from McDonald’s. 🙂 Connor is resting near the gas station before he fills up his tank for the long ride ahead.  🙂

Teachers set up a dramatic play scenario and discuss the scene with learners.  Through preparation and then action, several learning objectives can be addressed for each child.  Often times, community helpers dressed in the role assist (a police officer may pull someone over for violating a sign or the “fire trike” may sound the horn and ring the bell on the way to an emergency).

On a beautiful day, our youngest learners beg to be outside, learning, and moving.  We are so thankful and blessed to have Tricycle Town to spark imagination for our PK, Head Start, PPCD, CBI, and Kinder friends while developing critical thinking skills in an engaging, meaningful way.  Come join us sometime!